The School District of Philadelphia is already recruiting for the next academic year.
Amid reports of an ongoing national teacher shortage, as well as troubling data about the number of people entering the profession, the district will allow 25 schools to begin offering jobs to applicants in January for the 2023-2024 term. Those offers typically do not go out until April.
The early access program, which began last year with 17 schools, has been successful in lowering vacancies, district officials said Tuesday.
“Research in the United States over 50 years has told us that the single most important factor in student academic growth and attainment is a highly qualified, well supported stable teaching force over time,” Superintendent Tony Watlington Sr. told reporters during a Tuesday news conference.
Currently, 98% of public school teacher positions in Philadelphia are filled, meaning there are fewer than 180 vacant spots throughout the 220-school system.
“The biggest barrier to a 100% fill rate is the declining pipeline of teachers, or individuals going into teacher education programs,” Watlington said.
In Pennsylvania, around 20,000 new teachers were certified annually a decade ago; last year, 6,000 entered the workforce, according to data included in a state strategic plan published in July aimed at boosting teacher recruitment.
Of particular concern, the report said, is the need to develop minority educators. Across the state, just 7% of teachers are people of color, compared to 37% of the student population.
“We need a diversified workforce that looks like the children of Philadelphia,” said Aliya Catnach-Bradley, principal of Mary McLeod Bethune Elementary School in North Philadelphia, who spoke at Tuesday’s news conference, which was held in her school’s library.
Watlington said 68% of the 84 people currently participating in the district’s paraprofessional pathway program, which provides full tuition and training to staff working as special education assistants and classroom assistants who want to become certified teachers, are Black.
In addition, the district’s Teacher Residency Program allows those hoping to transition from another career a chance to student-teach for a year and earn a teaching certification while receiving a salary and tuition stipend.
To boost retention, teachers working in nearly 50 schools are set to receive a $5,000 bonus over the next two years.
Watlington said he does not agree with states and localities turning to uncertified educators to fill in gaps.
“I think it’s a train wreck and a mistake,” he said. “Teaching is an art and a science and anybody off the street can’t do it.”
The starting salary for a Philadelphia public school teacher with a bachelor’s degree is $50,000. Officials said the average pay is $82,000, with a maximum of $99,000 for teachers with 10 years experience.
For more information on becoming a district teacher, go to teachinphilly.com. Details on other open positions – such as bus drivers, support staff, food service, cleaners and nurses – are available at workinphilly.com.