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Recruiting Fails to Ease Teacher Shortage

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Nov. 20, 2006 — Despite continued efforts by the Education Department, the territory is still 77 teachers short of a full roster.
"Recruitment efforts are ongoing," Human Resource Director Alscess Lewis-Brown said Monday.
Like most school districts, she said, the territory finds it hard to recruit teachers. The federal No Child Left Behind act dictates that teachers be certified and qualified to teach in their fields. There is no shortage of applicants for teacher positions, but many do not meet the requirements, she said.
The certification requirement has convinced many older teachers to leave the field so they don't have to make the effort to get certified, Lewis-Brown said. Additionally, she said, those older teachers began teaching in a gentler time and no longer want to cope with "shark-infested waters."
"Children are more challenging than before," she said.
One teacher at Guy Benjamin School in Coral Bay, St. John, who asked not to be identified, said that the school's remote location makes it difficult to attract teachers.
"Most of the teaching recruits live on St. Thomas," the teacher said.
Teachers have no transportation, she said, and unlike most other government departments, the Education Department does not have a vehicle on St. John to give teachers a ride from the ferry dock in Cruz Bay to Coral Bay.
Her school currently has no sixth-grade teacher because the substitute teacher refused to teach beyond the first marking period, the teacher said, adding that the students are "just bumming around" when the principal, paraprofessional or another teacher isn't available.
Because there aren't enough teachers, classes have doubled up for kindergarten and first grade, as well as fourth and fifth grades. The department wants to double up second and third grades to free up a teacher for the sixth grade, she said, but the teachers oppose the plan.
According to Lewis-Brown, the Education Department has made some efforts to convince students to become teachers via a summer program, but said they're dissuaded when their instructors tell them to look elsewhere for a career because they won't make any money teaching. Last summer, she said, 20 students in each district participated in the program. It included job shadowing of summer-school teachers and classwork at the University of the Virgin Islands.
Teachers start at $26,000 a year, Lewis-Brown said, and the department can now offer additional money for up to 10 years of experience. The department looks internationally to fill vacancies, having much success recruiting teachers from the Philippines, she said. They are "sweet eager beavers" despite the lack of deference they find from the territory's students, Lewis-Brown said.
The federal government recently granted security clearance to 37 international teachers who received job offers in April. Now they're being interviewed by the U.S. Embassies in their home countries and will begin arriving in the territory within the next few weeks.
The department currently has 40 vacancies on St. Croix and 37 in the St. Thomas-St. John district, Lewis-Brown said. The St. Croix figure includes 26 secondary-school teachers of mathematics, science, music, social studies and special education. Additionally, the list includes seven elementary-school teachers, two librarians and five vocational teachers.
The St. Thomas-St. John vacancies include 24 secondary-school teachers in the fields of mathematics, science, music, social studies and special education. There are also vacancies for five librarians and eight elementary school teachers.
Classes with low enrollment were combined to address the vacancies, Lewis-Brown said.
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