Schools scramble to fill 80 positions

High-level math students are left without teachers

`It has to stop. It has to stop.'

Fall's shortage traced to problems in spring

October 28, 2004|By Liz Bowie | Liz Bowie,SUN STAFF

Nearly two months into the school year, Baltimore administrators are struggling to fill 80 teaching vacancies, many in high-level math classes that students need to pass to graduate.

At Reginald F. Lewis High School in Northeast Baltimore, there isn't an Algebra II or a geometry teacher. So part of the way through this semester, the school disbanded the classes and reassigned the students to other subjects.

At City College, one of state's top performing high schools, there is a vacancy for a teacher of advanced math.

For City "to have an advanced math class go vacant since the beginning of school. ... It has to stop. It has to stop," said Melvin L. Stukes, a city councilman who has a child at City. "What is going to happen to the seniors?"

Students at Reginald Lewis have been offered the courses at night, but that isn't satisfactory to many parents.

"I am beyond appalled," said Crystal Wilson, vice president of the school's Parent Teacher Student Association. "I have a daughter in this situation."

With five vacant teaching positions, Reginald Lewis isn't that unusual. Many high schools have vacancies, particularly in math, but English teachers are also greatly needed, city school officials said yesterday.

The officials say the teacher shortage can be traced back to the financial problems that beset the system last spring. At the time, the board decided to raise class sizes to save money - and officials worried that they might end up with too many teachers in the fall.

So they delayed recruiting efforts until later in the summer, when it became clear how many teachers were quitting.

"We were so concerned about having too many teachers, we were not out in front of the recruitment process," said Bill Boden, the city school system's human resources director.

Most of those vacancies are filled with substitute teachers, but students and teachers have complained that often the substitutes are simply baby-sitting classrooms rather than trying to teach.

And some educators, including Maryland state schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick, have suggested that the high number of substitute teachers is contributing to an increase in disruptive incidents in some schools this year.

"I do think the substitute issue is a critical one in terms of instruction and climate," Grasmick said yesterday.

Classes began in September with 135 vacancies for regular education and 56 for special education, city school officials said.

That number has come down to 80 as the system continues hiring. "We are having a full court press on filling vacancies," schools CEO Bonnie S. Copeland said at the state Board of Education meeting yesterday morning in response to Grasmick's questions.

The system is considering several solutions, and Boden said he believes he will have nearly all the vacancies filled by January. He said he has recently hired two teachers for City College who will be starting soon.

One option the system is considering is to ask some teachers to take an additional class during one of their two free periods a day.

For instance, an Algebra I teacher might take on another Algebra I section so that she would be teaching the same lesson more than once rather than having to come up with another lesson plan. The teacher would be given a pay increase for taking on the added work.

Boden said he has contacted colleges and universities, looking for adjunct professors or graduate students who might want to teach a course. He also is seeking people who have expertise in a particular field but might not have teaching experience. For instance, he said, if there is a mathematician who is interested in teaching, the school system might welcome him.

The city schools are also hoping to hire some college students graduating in January, and perhaps to use a teacher to teach two classes in different locations at once with the use of television monitors.

Of the 80 vacancies, 25 are in the area of math and science.

With a shortage of math teachers across the state and nation, Boden said, it was difficult to start hiring for those jobs this summer.

Several years ago, when the system was in the habit of hiring as many as 1,000 teachers every year, officials were far less picky. A substantial percentage of teachers hired every year were recent graduates with little or no specific classroom training.

Today, Boden seeks to hire teachers who are both certified and have taken courses in the subject area in which they want to teach.

Grasmick said that, at this point, she would rather have any certified teacher than a substitute.

Boden said he doesn't disagree in general, but there are times when it won't work.

"Does that mean we would have a French teacher in front of a calculus class? If neither the substitute nor the French teacher knows the subject, then what have we accomplished?" he said.

"Students still have the right to have the expectation that someone will be knowledgeable about the subject matter."

For the students at Reginald Lewis who need to take classes at night, the school day goes from early in the morning to 7 p.m., said Wilson, the PTSA officer.

"I am very angry," she said.

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