Teacher vacancies in metro Atlanta schools not as severe as feared

Second grade teacher Temica Cook interacts with her students during the Atlanta Public Schools' Summer Academic Recovery Academy at Cascade Elementary School in Atlanta on June 2, 2021.  (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer/Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

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Second grade teacher Temica Cook interacts with her students during the Atlanta Public Schools' Summer Academic Recovery Academy at Cascade Elementary School in Atlanta on June 2, 2021. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer/Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

As students return to classrooms, most metro Atlanta school systems say they are not facing the severe shortage of teachers hitting districts elsewhere in the country.

Only Fulton and DeKalb county school systems still have dozens of certified teacher vacancies, with Fulton reporting more than 150. DeKalb was trying to fill 248 slots as of late July.

Cobb County schools expects to be fully staffed as students return, while Atlanta Public Schools and the Gwinnett County district reported a little more than 50 teacher vacancies altogether.

“The Atlanta metro market for K-12 personnel is just highly competitive given the volume of school systems in the area,” said Ron Wade, Fulton County schools chief talent officer.

His district offered a signing bonus for up to $5,000 for new special education teachers.

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Margaret Ciccarelli, director of legislative services with the Professional Association of Georgia Educators, said it’s too early to tell if the COVID-19 pandemic had any bearing on teacher vacancies, including early retirements.

“The teacher shortage existed pre-pandemic, but we don’t know if it was exacerbated by the pandemic,” she said.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than 270,000 primary and secondary teachers are expected to leave the field each year between 2016 and 2026.

Gov. Brian Kemp in May signed education bills designed to boost the number of educators in Georgia, including an alternative certification path for military veterans, mentoring of teachers, new training requirements in college and efforts to attract more minority college students to the profession.

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Kemp also pushed for $5,000 raises for teachers, $3,000 of which has been delivered. Ciccarelli said the remaining $2,000 to teachers will be critical to “attracting talent and keep talent serving kids in Georgia public schools.”

Michelle Jones, DeKalb’s interim chief of human resources, said to temporarily fill vacancies, the district relies on long-term substitute teachers, retirees who work part-time, teachers approved to work in an extended day capacity and other measures.

“We have a plan to work with each school to provide support to our students where there are vacancies,” she said. “Our focus remains to recruit develop and retain our staff throughout the year.”

Gwinnett County Public Schools offered hiring incentives for teachers in areas such math, science and special education and gave $5,000 bonus to educators who signed a two-year contract after June 7. As of late July, it was down to about 37 teacher vacancies out of about 12,000 certified positions, said Monica Batiste, associate superintendent of human resources and talent management.

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Batiste also said the district’s vacancy numbers are not far off from previous years. She said 42 teachers resigned this year, down from around 55 educators who left the district at this time last year.

“That gives us a hopeful outlook on what this year will look like,” she said.

Cobb County schools, which has about 7,300 regular and special education teachers, said about 98% of its teachers signed contracts last spring to return for the new year.

Atlanta Public Schools has around 17 certified teacher vacancies and “feels pretty confident” that it will get down to fewer than 10 vacancies when classes resume on Wednesday, said Skye Duckett, the chief human resources officer. The district has about 3,100 total teachers.

APS implemented pay raises and bonuses and provided “generous” remote work and COVID-19 leave protocols for educators, Duckett said. The district was also aided by the lack of large turnover of teachers.

“Honestly working on retaining our teachers is the best recruitment strategy we have,” Duckett said.