Few gaps to fill: Local school leaders say they’re almost fully staffed with teachers

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JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) — While school leaders struggle to fill some positions, they say they are close to being fully staffed with teachers.

School leaders said those open positions aren’t anything different than pre-pandemic school years. Most school leaders say they just have one or two positions left to fill before school starts, but they’ll be able to cover those if they need.

“We’re near fully staffed at this point. This recruitment year was a little different than last year. I think last year people were more apprehensive about retiring, leaving, seeking other positions, so we didn’t see as many openings going into the summer last year at this time. This year, we’re back to somewhat normal as far as what we’re seeing,” said Matt Hixon, Director of Schools Hawkins County. “Worst case scenario, we start with substitutes. But we have been very fortunate and blessed to not have to do that in the past, it’ll be our goal over the next several weeks to start with fully staffed classrooms and instructional environments.”

The sentiment is shared by other school leaders. The need is low, so substitutes can be used if the search continues into the school year.

“We had one position with late resignation so we have like one position; all our other positions are filled,” said Steve Starnes, Director Greeneville City Schools. “We will cover it with a substitute until the hiring process is played out, but we are actively interviewing and those types of things right now.”

For some districts, the teaching positions that need to be filled are few, but it is proving difficult to find candidates.

“Currently, we’re pretty close. We have positions that we’re still interviewing for we have one position, a foreign language position that’s proving very difficult for us to find applicants, but for the most part, we’re doing pretty well,” said Evelyn Rafalowski, Sullivan County Interim Director Schools. “Absolutely, any summer that we have a foreign language come open, that’s always a difficult one to fill.”

However, despite having few positions open now, they do think that could change once the school year starts and more students enroll.

“We are fully staffed at this point,” said Dr. Steve Barnett, Superintendent, Johnson City Public Schools. “We still have a couple of schools where there are still questions of whether we’ll need to add teachers or not, so there’s a good chance that we’ll add students to our enrollment and that we’ll have to add some teachers in a couple of schools. We’ll be able to do that hopefully within the next couple of weeks, get those teachers in. We hire teachers after school starts sometimes because students will enroll after school starts, and we just have to have those numbers in order and we make sure that we are ready for that.”

The need could come from trying to fill learning gaps due to the inconsistencies of last school year. Dr. Barnett said they may add positions to help students and teachers catch up.

“One of the things that is throwing a little bit of a curve this year is the ESSER money. With the ESSER money, it’s a grant, through the state from the federal government. We’re looking at best ways to close achievement gaps for students, so we’ll meet, continue to meet with principals that we’ve met and send out surveys and finalizing that grant so it could lead to some additional positions coming onboard at some of our schools,” said Dr. Barnett.

Bristol Tennessee Director of Schools Dr. Annette Tudor said although they’re fully staffed with teachers, they are still in need of educational assistants.

With still more than a week out or more from school, superintendents and school directors hope to have any openings filled before the first day of school so those teachers can prepare.

“We want to do that as soon as possible so those teachers that are available, get them in, interviewed, have interviews and get people in place and get them acclimated to their new school placement and ready to receive students on August 4,” said Dr. Barnett.

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