Teacher shortage task force identifies progress, unfinished business

OKLAHOMA CITY - A working task force created to tackle the teacher shortage crisis in Oklahoma has released an updated report on its progress.

The group was formed in 2015 and started with about 90 members including teachers, school districts, some lawmakers, and members of the business community. Superintendent Joy Hofmesister said they created about 40 recommendations.

"There were about 8 or 9 that needed to go through the Legislature for changes in law to remove hurdles or barriers that would help us with the teacher shortage. Those were all successfully passed," Superintendent Hofmesister said.

Teacher pay raises were a critical first step in combating the shortage crisis, Hofmeister said. However, she several steps remain to be taken with about 500 vacant positions in Oklahoma.

"That continues to illustrate that we are not yet able to turn around the teacher shortage. At the end of the day, it is our children that are burying the brunt of that cost," she said. "We have 2,153 emergency certification requests submitted to the State Board of Education in only the first three months of the school year and that exceeds all time annual high."

Right now, the group's focus is turning to investment in Oklahoma classrooms. This includes training for teachers and keeping the turnover rate for principals low.

"It’s not talked about sometimes but we have a principal shortage, and we believe that as we have new principals or as we have principals that have experience that we provide training that’s meaningful, that helps them to network," Hofmeister said. "We know that a principal is someone who can set the tone for a school, where families can feel welcome…where teachers feel supported and where they keep and insulate teachers from red tape."

The group has also surveyed teachers who have left the profession but continued to keep their teaching certificates active. The results are then given to lawmakers.

Summer externship opportunities have also been provided. Hofmeister said the purpose to give teachers training and expertise in fields, which can then be taken back to their classrooms.

"We’ve arranged for that to happen with business partners, around STEM, and we have teachers from kindergarten through high school that are part of that pilot as we begin to make new relationships," she explained.

Dr. Robert Romines, superintendent of Moore Public Schools, is a member of the working task force. The district hired about 50 teachers this school year.

"It was more difficult to fill the empty classrooms this year but fortunately, we were able to hire emergency certified teachers and alt-ed teachers to help bridge that gap," Dr. Romines said.

Romines said there is a significant cost factor when it comes to training new teachers.

"There is a lot of money that has to be invested in those individuals whether it be through professional development, the mentorship piece that we’ve worked on so very hard on here in this district," he said. "Part of the tide that we need to turn has to do with the respect of what public education is about and what our teachers are faced with and what we need to do to turn that around."

Hofmeister said the working task force is currently completing a three-year "teacher supply and demand" study.

"That will be produced and then those findings will give the task force their next set of priorities and then we will take the financial need to the Legislature and ask for the very strategic support," she said.

To read the full progress report, click here.