CHARLESTON, W.Va. — By this time next week, students in all 55 West Virginia counties will be back in school, but not everyone will be learning from a certified teacher.
The 2022-2023 school year is underway in many school districts with some superintendents reporting dozens of vacancies.
“We have about 40 vacancies we’re still searching for,” said Mercer County Schools Superintendent Ed Toman.
The openings are widespread from county to county and include all areas of public education.
“We need to get bodies in the classroom,” said state Board of Education member Debra Sullivan. “It’s not just with teacher shortages. We don’t have cooks. We don’t have bus drivers.”
Sullivan said while the COVID-19 pandemic didn’t cause the shortages, it did exacerbate the issue.
“The pandemic has been hard not just on our educators, but on the public. People are starting the school year somewhat in the hole. They are tired,” she said.
In Jefferson County, there are about 30 openings across the district. Superintendent Bondy Shay Gibson-Learn said salary enhancements can help especially being situated near the Virginia and Maryland border where teachers can leave for better pay, but she said the key to retaining teachers is respect.
“I have to get close on salary, but if you can get close enough where it makes a difference as a school system that sees you as a person, as a family member – we have a hugely supportive community. People see that and they want to work somewhere where they’re appreciated,” Gibson said.
Sullivan said teachers deserve more if they want to avoid additional shortages in the future.
“There’s nothing more important than educating our children. I think we as a society need to recognize that, so we need to fund our schools better and pay our personnel better,” she said.
The teacher shortage is just a sliver of problems the state’s public school system faces heading into the new school year, Sullivan said.
“The whole infrastructure needs to be built up,” she said. “That’s going to take a lot of effort and frankly, it’s going to take money.”
The teacher shortage across West Virginia continues to turn heads. What could happen to turn that decrease into an increase? Debra Sullivan, WV School Board Member, provides her insight with @DaveWilsonMN. WATCH: https://t.co/yCFQ3nDJuy pic.twitter.com/GMXIGDiNB1
— MetroNews (@WVMetroNews) August 19, 2022
This comes as fewer students are going to college and pursuing careers in education. Last week, the state Department of Education released the latest college-going rate which listed less than 46 percent of high school graduates in 2021 went on to higher education programs.
While the department has a number of incentive programs in place to attract new teachers to live and work in the Mountain State, Sullivan said counties are also working on ways to recruit.
“In places like McDowell, they are working to provide affordable housing,” she said. “School systems are offering incentives for teachers to take advanced courses during the school year.”
Toman said his philosophy for keeping certified teachers in the classroom is simple.
“Are the airplane pilots going to look for cab drivers to fly their planes?” he said. “I think we need to take care of who we have.”
The school year started for the first few counties on Aug. 16.
Clay, Hancock, Marsall, Monongalia, Morgan, Ohio and Preston counties head back to school Tuesday.
Harrison, Jackson, Putnam, Roane, Summers and Tucker counties have their first day on Wednesday.
Logan, Monroe, Raleigh, Taylor, Wayne and Wyoming counties are set to return to school Thursday. Mercer County Schools will be back on Friday.
The first day of school is next Monday, Aug. 29 in Greenbrier, McDowell and and Mingo counties.