Hundreds of teaching positions remain vacant in Shelby County Schools

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Two weeks into the new school year, Shelby County Schools is still trying to fill hundreds of teaching positions.

On June 28, WREG Investigators submitted an open records request asking how many teacher vacancies there were in the district. SCS responded more than six weeks later, giving us a list of teacher positions they needed to fill as of July 13 — information that was already a month old.

At that point, there were more than 400 vacancies. The most were in special education, pre-k, elementary grades K through second, and third through fifth.

We asked the district’s communications team for the latest number this week.

As of Tuesday, they told us they still needed to hire 200 teachers — but didn’t say what positions.

District leaders assured us the district has “100% of classes covered with qualified individuals to ensure no disruption to in-person learning.” They explained a qualified individual means a “licensed employee, certified subs, and/or degreed subs.”

But that’s just a “space filler,” said Keith Williams, head of the Shelby County Education Association.

“You have to have someone there who is knowledgeable, child-centered, full of information, who can maintain control, who has the training,” Williams said.

He said SCS has a systemic problem of teacher leaving the district.

“Where are they going? Who knows. Probably charters, municipalities, other districts,” he said.

Williams said morale is low among teachers he’s talked to.

“They’re going to have to come to terms with the COVID situation, the learning losses we have in this district, the way we are paying teachers and treating teachers,” he said. “We are going to have to rethink this whole program if we are going to get, retain and keep good, qualified teachers in these classrooms.”

WREG told you last spring that teachers were uncomfortable returning to the classroom because of COVID.
Some resigned or took a leave of absence, including two teachers from White Station High.

“I actually cried a little bit, because I really loved both of these teachers, because they were such an impact for the students and for me personally,” student Rebekah Butler said.

In March, SCS reported 4% of teaching positions were vacant. That’s the same number of vacancies as today.

Officials stated, “our HR department has been working hard to assure our instructional and non-instructional vacancies are filled,” adding “while school districts across the country have reported teacher shortages, we are encouraged that 96% of vacancies have been filled.”

It also noted they reduced the adult-to-student ratio, and created 250 new teaching assistant roles. We’ve asked how many of those positions have been filled.

Nonetheless Superintendent Dr. Joris Ray is confident it will be a good year

“We have returned stronger,” he said. “Our students, they are eager to learn.”

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