Santa Fe district struggles to find volunteer teachers for hybrid learning | Education

Teaching vacancies at Santa Fe Public Schools are in line with previous years, even amid the coronavirus pandemic.

But the district is still struggling to find enough teachers to volunteer to reenter schools under a hybrid learning model it will implement later this month.

The district reported 21 teaching vacancies affecting 11 elementary, community and middle schools, and no principal or assistant principal openings Wednesday. Only one school had more than two openings, with Ortiz Middle School reporting seven as the first quarter of the year comes to a close Friday.

Superintendent Veronica García said the figure is on par with the average number of openings the district has had over the past several years.

“The numbers vary and the reasons vary,” García said. “We’ve worked hard at recruitment and retention, but this seems to have been our range as far as vacancies this year.”

Of the openings, six involved grade-level elementary teachers and three were for special-education instructors.

In August 2019, the district started the year with 32 vacancies, which led García to use district employees to fill those openings. However, many of them quit in the process. 

“It didn’t work the way I thought it would,” García said. “I learned from that experience that people who don’t want to be at a school, it’s not good for them to be forced to be there. It’s not going to work.”

While the number of teaching vacancies seemed manageable to administrators, the district has had trouble getting educators to voluntarily return to the classroom under a hybrid model it plans to start Oct. 26 for elementary schools.

Some teachers have raised concerns about sanitization protocols, how the district would deal with an outbreak and how quickly students would get up to speed under the new model.

As it stands now, 165 elementary teachers and support staff have opted to work on-site, and that total is not enough to get all hybrid students into the classroom.

District officials have said they hope to shore up staffing over time, adding that more educators might choose to take part in the hybrid model once it has been put in place and they see that it works.   

Meanwhile, Ortiz Middle School continues to deal with staffing problems. For the second straight year, it has seven teaching vacancies. Felicia Sena, Ortiz’s principal, declined an interview request by The New Mexican.

While Ortiz might be an outlier in terms of staffing teachers, schools in the state have struggled to keep teachers. In 2019, New Mexico State University released a statewide report that showed 644 teaching vacancies in the state, which was down from 740 in 2018.

García said middle school jobs tend to be difficult to fill because it is not an easy age group for some teachers to oversee. She lauded Ortiz, saying it has good students and some of the programs it is involved in have opened doors for students.

Ortiz has a medical career pathway that enrolls 100 students in a program that follows them to Capital High School. It recently agreed to participate in the Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs, or GEAR-UP, through the U.S. Department of Education with New Mexico Highlands University for the next seven years. It is designed to increase the number of low-income students entering college and will provide Ortiz and Capital with $2.1 million in college and career readiness services.

“There is a lot of good at that school that is very exciting,” García said. “I wish that more people would give it a try.”

Other schools, though, are merely trying to put the finishing touches on their staffs.

Marc Ducharme, principal at Nava Elementary School, said he expects one of his two open positions — prekindergarten and special education — to be filled soon. In the meantime, Nava’s prekindergarten class has merged with César Chávez Elementary’s in the remote-learning model, and Nava’s other special-education teacher has taken in the extra students in his class.

Ducharme said Nava didn’t have as much staff turnover, with only four positions that opened in the summer. One was filled in-house, and a teacher from Amy Biehl Community School transferred to fill another opening. If anything, Ducharme said filling positions was challenging because of the quality of candidates and the rigorous background checks the state’s Public Education Department puts them through, especially if they are from out of state.

“I know the PED is flooded with stuff, but they set a nice standard so that we are getting quality candidates,” Ducharme said.

García said she hopes new hires will volunteer to teach in the hybrid model.

She said at last week’s school board meeting that all schools will have at least one grade level under the hybrid plan, with priority given to students with special needs and those who lack an internet connection. García hopes the new hires will want to help get students into the classroom.

“I really do, but we shall have to see,” she said.

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