With just 15 days before students arrive for their first day of school, the Birmingham Board of Education approved hiring more than 60 teachers.
As a result of the approvals, Birmingham City Schools has filled all but 11 of the 150 teacher vacancies that were identified at the end of the 2018-19 school year, school Superintendent Lisa Herring announced during a special called board meeting July 23.
Herring said that, in the face of a teacher shortage, successfully filling almost all of the teaching positions was an important moment to acknowledge.
“That is extremely significant,” Herring said. “There are teacher shortages across the entire state.”
The Alabama Commission on Higher Education reported that between 2009 and 2015, 19% fewer college students chose an education path. Alabama legislators voted to increase the time a newly hired teacher can remain employed at a school without certification in an effort to ease some of the barriers to hiring.
Amanda Cross, human resources officer for BCS, said that she and her team determined in May that about 150 vacancies would need to be filled after assessing which teachers would return to BCS in the fall for the 2019-2020 school year.
Teachers are asked to indicate their intent to return for the coming year at the end of each school year. Additionally, BCS issues notices to first-, second- and third-year teachers who, based on evaluation and failure to meet certification requirements, will not have their employment renewed for the following school year. Teachers who are renewed at the end of the third year are tenured.
The volume of vacancies, according to Cross isn’t unusual for the system, which employs about 1,350 teachers annually.
While the teacher turnover may be at a normal rate, that number of vacancies is daunting in the current teacher climate.
“We have worked hard to do a lot of recruiting to keep those numbers down, said Cross, “The teacher shortage is large, not just in Birmingham, not just in Alabama, but across the country.”
BCS began recruiting teachers for the 2019-2020 school year a year ago, visiting Alabama colleges and Southeastern schools, and even traveling as far as Minnesota to encourage education majors to consider applying to teach at Birmingham City Schools. Hiring fairs were conducted in the spring.
To attract teachers, BCS offers a $5,000 signing bonus to math, science, special education and English as a second language teachers. Additionally, because all of the schools in the system are designated Title 1, teachers can qualify for student loan forgiveness.
Read more BirminghamWatch reporting on the teacher shortage:
Reading Interventions Showing Promise
At a working session of the board that same evening, representatives presented findings of a study on a year-long reading intervention initiative and said that students made significant skills improvements.
The report also indicated that improving student usage of the program, monitoring by teachers and oversight from school principals would offer the potential for even greater gains.
“There are a huge cohort of students who are reading at an ability that they were not when they started this school year. That’s significant,” Herring said.
The initiative included three software programs licensed by Houghton Mifflin and Harcourt. Students worked in 15- to 20-minute sessions to hone their reading skills. The goal was for students to each complete about 100 sessions, and the initiative was targeted to 2,928 students in 15 elementary schools and 924 students in middle and high schools.
Participating schools were Inglenook K-8, Woodlawn High Schools, Wenonah High School, Huffman Middle School, Hayes K-8, Washington K-8 School, Green Acres Middle School, Carver High School, South Hampton K-8, Arrington Middle School, Wylam K-8, Wilkerson Middle School, Christian K-8, Huffman High School, Parker High School, Ossie Ware Mitchell Middle, Smith Middle School, Jones Valley School and Jackson-Olin High School.
For students in kindergarten through second grade, the report showed that 95% of the students improved their early reading skills and 23% moved up a grade level.
Steve Knobloch, director of academic planning and analytics at Houghton Mifflin and Harcourt, presented the report findings and said, “I would predict, based on what I’m seeing here and if we get usage up and more sessions with the students, we should be able to see these kids at grade level.”
Third graders’ usage of the intervention was not strong; the report showed students took part in only 1/3 of the available sessions. However even without completing the remaining 2/3 of sessions, 70% of the students improved their reading levels and 26% were able to meet their end-of-year individualized goals.
Middle and high school students had strong results, with 82% and 73% improving their reading levels. All of the participating schools except one exceeded overall year end goals
Board members Daagye Hendricks and Sandra Brown asked what was being done to manage the program better and hold principals and administrators accountable for making certain the program is being fully used.
Herring said administrator evaluations will help make certain principals are accountable.
New School Computers
The board also discussed during the working meeting BCS’ overall technology plan in response to a $444,254 request to refresh desktop and laptop computers at Carver High School.
Some of the board members, reacting to the cost, discussed the need for a uniform, systemwide approach to technology and suggested holding off on purchasing decisions until options could be further examined.
Herring said that, given the age of current computers and scope of the need, delay would hurt daily school operations.
Troy Williams, chief operations officer, said the last broad computer purchase was in 2011, and the plan is to address the 15 schools that have computers that are nine years old or older.
Board members Brown and Mickey Millsap both said the effort to replace outdated computers should be expedited.
“If there is a way to advance this faster, I’m on board. If you are working on something that old, that’s causing problems,” said Millsap.