Aug. 7, 2001 –A new job-sharing program is being initiated by the Education Department this fall to address the territory's chronic shortage of teachers.
The program, in which two or more persons share one teaching position, has been used with success on the mainland in areas with teacher shortages, according to government officials.
Sen. Norman Jn. Baptiste, who chairs the Education Committee, said recently that the loss of more than two million teachers nationally is forecast over the next 10 years. He said the teaching profession is losing out to the more lucrative fields of business and industry.
Meantime, another school year is about to start in the Virgin Islands, and vacancies remain to be filled.
In a release from the Education Department, Alscess Lewis-Brown, director of human resources, explained the job-sharing program. She said one teaching job would be divided into the number of classes a teacher is required to teach each day. If a teacher has three slots, each slot would be one-third of that teacher's class schedule, with payment at one-third of a starting teacher's salary. Those employed to share teaching jobs will not receive health and retirement benefits.
Lewis-Brown said "job sharers" must commit to take on a "job" for a minimum of one semester. The department is especially looking for math, science and special education teachers to join the program, she said.
According to Lewis-Brown, the program will accomplish the following things:
– Infuse new professional energy into the teaching force.
– Provide opportunities for highly motivated teachers to earn additional money.
– Save the department money because participants will not get fringe benefits.
– Access seasoned local expertise.
– Reduce the number of teaching vacancies.
– Reinforce business and education partnerships.
Participants should be "professionals with content area credits and expertise," according to an Education release. Candidates must have at least a bachelor's degree, Lewis-Brown said, except for individuals with vocational trade and industry experience who are interested in participating in the vocational education program.
On Aug. 1, at a Senate Finance Committee budget hearing for the Board of Education, senators were told that about half of the territory's current public school teachers, mainly at the secondary level, may not hold the required certification to teach. The board executive director, Evadney Hodge, said such teachers may not have taken requisite college-level education courses, or they may not have complied with a law passed in 1992 requiring all teachers to complete a college course in Virgin Islands history.
Hodge said some high school teachers have degrees in such subjects as math, English, social studies and science but have not taken any teaching courses. Over the years, because the need for teachers "was so severe in the Virgin Islands, those persons were hired," she said.
At a Board of Education meeting in July, Lewis-Brown stated that Education anticipated about 40 teacher vacancies in each district when school resumes later this month. According to a knowledgeable source, the number may be significantly lower. Repeated telephone calls to Education Commissioner Ruby Simmonds over the last four days seeking information were not returned.
Baptiste believes the Teacher Recruitment Act of 2001, which he introduced and the governor signed into law Friday, will help address the problem locally by raising starting teachers' salaries and putting existing teachers on step.
"It depends on how soon we can get our hands on the money, and how soon the administration can begin negotiations with the teachers unions," Baptiste said. In addition, he said, "the bill has been amended to identify an affordable housing program for the teachers to buy homes."
For information on registering to participate in the teacher job-sharing program this fall, call Lewis-Brown at 773-1095.


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