School officials continued hiring as opening day approached

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'We are filling positions as quickly as possible.'
           -- Robert Spiegel

UPDATED Sept. 1: Close to four dozen vacancies -- in teaching, nursing and other fields -- were listed at Arlington Public Schools last month, a predicament similar to those in communities nationwide. But that list was down to 30 just before the opening of the school year, including a new vacancy in the central office, that of chief financial officer. This spot opened up after CFO Michael Mason was chosen to become deputy town manager effective in November.

However, all teaching posts are expected to be filled by the time classes started Tuesday, Sept. 6, right after Labor Day, APS officials say.

The district website in recent days listed 50 jobs, including 14 teaching posts, but Human Resources Director Robert Spiegel said last month that the true total number was 45, with some having been filled previously and others inadvertent duplicates. 

As of Thursday evening Sept. 1, the website listed only five vacancies for teaching jobs for the regular school day -- all in the special-education field, as expected. Isolated positions are also listed for the much-smaller before-school and after-school programs.

 “Almost every district [in the United States] is struggling to fill certain positions, including special education teaching positions and paraprofessional positions,” Spiegel noted in an email in mid-August.

“We are filling positions as quickly as possible. All classroom teaching positions should be filled by the first day of school.We may [still] have some openings for special education, some specialists and teaching assistants,” Spiegel wrote at that time. “We will continue to work to hire those positions.We may use substitutes or contracted services for some positions that we have not filled.”

The staffing situation is likely to be an item on the agenda for the first School Committee meeting of the new school year, scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 8. 

Teachers' union, School Committee responses

Julianna Keyes, president of the Arlington Education Association, the teachers' union, provided this statement last month:

“It's normal to have vacancies during the summer, and to my knowledge, Arlington is experiencing a fairly normal amount of turnover.

“It's for a variety of reasons -- some people look for a shorter commute or higher-paying district, some move into administrative roles elsewhere or take time off to finish a degree, some decide to leave education for a change of pace, some move away or have changing life experiences that cause them to resign. 

“There are usually some summer retirement announcements as well.

“I know that news about teacher shortages is dominant in the media right now, but overall we are doing well here in Arlington, and I am confident we will be adequately staffed by the start of the school year.

“If someone is considering working in Arlington, I encourage them to apply for any openings. It's a wonderful place to work. Finally, the AEA strongly encourages the community to keep supporting our schools so that we can remain competitive in recruiting candidates.”

School Committee Chair Liz Exton also expressed confidence in the process in an email received by YourArlington last month. 

"The School Committee is pleased to have settled a number of contracts with our bargaining units last spring and to have negotiated COLAs, step-raises and related benefits to attract and retain highly qualified educators to the district. Our Human Resources department is well connected and is reaching out to contacts to recruit additional staff.

"It is not uncommon to have a number of vacant positions in the middle of August. There is often movement within and across districts at this point in the summer.The last few years have been challenging for teachers and other school-related personnel. Arlington Public Schools is committed to supporting faculty and staff in maintaining high expectations for students, while balancing the needs of our dedicated staff." 

School staffing: a nationwide issue

Arlington to some extent finds itself in a similar situation to other communities across the nation. 

From Nevada to Oklahoma, New Jersey to North Carolina, districts have been scrambling this month to fill spots.

Some observers believe that this is due to concerns about pay, perceived lack of appreciation, safety issues, excessive required non-teaching tasks and educators reevaluating their career and life goals in the context of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. Some estimates are that the teacher shortage nationwide approaches 300,000. 

In some other districts, incentives are being offered and requirements relaxed, but that is not the case in Arlington, said Spiegel  -- nor should it be, according to Superintendent Elizabeth Homan in an email last month.

"This year, we prioritized bargaining competitive contracts with our employees, which went very well with all of our bargaining units," she said. "We feel it is important to invest our resources in the employees who have already committed to the Arlington Public Schools; this of course takes significant resources from our budgets both short- and long-term, and it helps with retention.

She continued,"While we do have openings and welcome people to apply to work for Arlington, we do not have more turnover than in typical years in Arlington, and we are looking forward to the start of the school year."

Opportunities have been and continue to be advertised widely. “Jobs have been posted on TalentEd, School Spring, Indeed and LinkedIn.We have also put out social media posts,” Spiegel said.  

Aug. 9, 2022: San Antonio school districts have teacher vacancies to fill ahead of new year
Aug. 5, 2022: Oklahoma public schools still have teacher vacancies with under a week before school starts
Oct. 12, 2021: Who's new in town's public schools? See list of 150 


This account by YourArlington school reporter Judith Pfeffer was published Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2022, updated later that day to include perspectives from School Committee Chair Liz Exton and Superintendent Elizabeth Homan, and updated again Sept. 1, 2022, to note that the vacancy list as shown on the school-district website now stands at 30 total.

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