Not enough licensed teachers in the Helena-West Helena School District
The Helena-West Helena School District needs state intervention due to a lack of licensed teachers, Arkansas Education Secretary Johnny Key wrote in a letter to the school district. .
“Elementary school staffing is of particular concern, with some grade levels currently having no licensed teachers assigned to students,” Key wrote in the June 22 letter to Deputy Superintendent Joyce Anderson and the president of the Sanetta Davis School Board.
The Arkansas Department of Education’s Division of Elementary and Secondary Education will recommend that the State Board of Education declare that the Helena-West Helena School District needs “intensive support” from level 5, writes Key in the letter.
The State Council will address the issue at its meeting Thursday in Little Rock.
The issue arose after the school district requested an extension of its waiver of Law 1240, which allows it to hire unlicensed teachers.
“After extensive analysis, the Division has determined that the district’s human capital system continues to experience instability with staffing and irregularities in the master planning process,” Key wrote.
“There are several vacancies that still need to be filled in elementary and secondary schools,” he wrote. “Based on information reported by the district, it is believed the board of trustees are not considering qualified applicants; and it is unclear whether a high school counselor has been hired.
“The data does not show that granting blanket licensure waivers has provided the district with an opportunity to attract and retain quality applicants that translate into a stable workforce,” Key wrote. . “However, it is doubtful that the school district will be able to find dismissed candidates for the 2022-2023 school year given the late hiring date and the shortage of prepared candidates.”
The situation needs to be closely monitored to ensure that stability is restored to district staffing, Key wrote in the letter.
The Office of Support and Coordinated Services will lead support to the school district, according to Key.
The office will designate an assistant state superintendent to oversee “day-to-day human capital work and liaise with the district and division regarding personnel decisions,” he wrote.
Also on the state board agenda for Thursday is Helena-West Superintendent Helena Linda English’s request for an extension of her waiver of Law 1240 to continue hiring unlicensed teachers.
The extension would be for one year and would cover both elementary and secondary schools – from grades 1 to 12, depending on the agenda.
“The Helena West Helena School District is challenged each year to recruit certified teachers to the district,” English wrote. “The shortage of teachers in our region is due to many factors, including many teachers retiring, many teachers leaving the profession before retirement, low numbers of teacher education graduates, low numbers applicants to the alternative education program, a low teacher pay scale compared to other parts of the state, and a lack of teachers willing to relocate to our area.”
“We strive to attract and retain the most qualified and licensed teachers for our students,” English wrote, but “we face the grim reality of teacher shortages.”
“Therefore, we are requesting a teacher license waiver,” she wrote. “The waivers we are requesting will allow us to fill classrooms with people who have the passion and commitment to be a teacher but are not yet licensed. These future teachers have a bachelor’s degree, which allows them to meet to the definition of highly qualified under [Every Student Succeeds Act] terms.”
As of spring 2022, the Helena-West Helena School District had 23 elementary school teachers hired under the 1240 waiver, according to a document in the meeting record.
“Over the duration of the current waiver, we have been able to fill many positions,” English wrote. “Obtaining a waiver of Law 1240 will allow us to be innovative in recruiting and training effective professionals and helping them become certified teachers. Law 1240 is an excellent recruiting tool that allows districts schools to recruit college graduates willing to enter a non-traditional education program to become a fully licensed teacher.”
The current waiver has been very helpful when it comes to recruiting and hiring quality staff to teach our students, English wrote.
“We are a very poor school district in a low income area,” she wrote. “The declining economy of Phillips County and surrounding areas has caused difficulty in trying to convince qualified candidates to choose our district. The district competes for teachers with surrounding areas that have lower salaries and higher housing The current waiver has allowed us to recruit teacher candidates with content knowledge to fill teaching positions who live in our community.
“The advantage for students is that they have a teacher with knowledge in the field. These teachers are members of the community and have a direct interest in our students. We strive to attract the best teachers for our students so they can learn.”
Additionally, the Law 1240 license exemption allows the school district to recruit and work with individuals who want to become teachers and be part of our school and community, English wrote.