RPS short nearly 200 teachers two weeks before school starts

RPS Superintendent Jason Kamras says the division is upgrading security measures inside school buildings.
Published: Aug. 7, 2023 at 6:01 PM EDT
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - It’s a race against the calendar for Richmond Public Schools to fill 184 teacher vacancies.

The school year kicks off in just two weeks, and despite several incentives, the chronic teacher shortage persists.

That topic was set to come up at Monday night’s school board meeting, but that meeting was canceled because of potential severe weather.

“To have 184 teacher vacancies only two weeks before the start of the school year signals that we are doing something very wrong,” said RPS Board Member Jonathan Young.

This isn’t a new issue in the school system. RPS doesn’t have enough teachers and has had trouble keeping them around year to year.

“We have a significant problem pertinent to attrition,” Young said. “We lose, on average, over 500 teachers year to year. That’s, on average, 22%.”

The school board is trying to resolve the greater issue by using a four-pronged approach.

They worked to enhance RPS’s marketing campaign, adjusted signing bonuses, added hiring events and invested more in programs that already exist.

RPS also led a teacher retention task force to dive deeper into this issue and figure out why teachers are leaving in droves each year.

“One: it’s because of building-level management,” Young said. “They cite what we all know. People don’t quit jobs, they quit managers. Two: they cite district-level deficiencies or challenges or that often contribute to the school board, administration, City Hall. Three: personal reasons.”

Young says he isn’t surprised signing bonuses and salary bumps have made little difference in retention. Young believes that people don’t go into teaching for the money. Instead, they teach for passion. However, he says RPS continues to prioritize a strict “one size fits all” curriculum.

“Even our empirical data, including exit surveys, demonstrate that the number one reason that persons leave is because they’re being micromanaged,” Young said.

He says this makes it hard for teachers to maintain meaningful relationships and mentor students throughout the years, which only hurts the school system.

“The impact on student learning is too profound for me to articulate in one interview,” Young said. “When you’re losing darn near a quarter of your teachers every year, that’s really difficult to obtain those relationships.”

RPS has not said whether the school board meeting will be rescheduled for a later date.