PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Rhode Island’s largest school district continues to be plagued by a serious teacher shortage, with 101 classrooms not filled with a permanent, full-time certified teacher on the first day of school Monday.
There were a total of 162 unfilled teaching jobs on the first day of school, according to district spokesperson Nick Domings. That larger tally includes non-classroom positions such as guidance counselors and social workers.
The vacant classroom jobs will be covered by substitutes until permanent teachers are hired.
The state-controlled school district was rushing to hire teachers in the weeks before class started, but saw a number of resignations in the final week of the summer, Domings said.
The resignations outpaced hiring: two weeks before school started, there were 90 vacant classroom jobs.
The 101 classroom vacancies puts the district at 94% fully staffed classrooms at the start of the school year, short of the state’s “turnaround action plan” goal of 96%.
That goal had already been revised down from 98% by 2024, after the original turnaround plan was amended to account for pandemic-related setbacks. The new plan calls for 98% fully staffed classrooms by 2026.
The baseline number before the state takeover was 95% fully staffed classrooms at the start of the school year.
“At the end of the day, I do want 100% in the classroom,” R.I. Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green told Target 12 in an interview airing Monday night. She said the teaching shortage was both a national problem and a Rhode Island problem.
In an effort to tackle the shortage, Infante-Green said Providence is offering a slew of bonuses, including a $10,000 retention bonus for new teachers who take hard-to-fill jobs and stay for three years; a $500 referral bonus for existing teachers to help find a new hire; and an $8,000 reimbursement for teachers to get certified in English as a Second Language, a requirement for many jobs in Providence.
Existing teachers also received a $3,000 bonus in contract negotiations last year. The district is using COVID relief funds to pay for the various incentives.
Providence Teachers Union President Maribeth Calabro said the incentives are helpful, but not enough to stem the tide of resignations.
“They’re going to other districts,” Calabro said when asked why so many teachers are resigning. “It’s about respect, it’s about the takeover. It’s about a whole host of things that has to do with teachers feeling like they are going to be treated as professionals somewhere else.”
According to human resources data, as of last week 232 teachers had resigned or retired in calendar year 2022 so far. In 2021, a total of 280 teachers left, up from from 152 teacher departures in 2020.
Calabro said the 232 number has already gone up since last week, with resignations outpacing the district’s hiring.
“It’s not for lack of trying,” Calabro said. “They’ve tried to recruit, they’ve offered incentives. I just don’t know if it’s enough.”
She noted that 101 classroom vacancies equates to roughly 2,600 students.
“That’s a lot of kids that don’t have a teacher,” Calabro said.
“We need to incentivize folks to come here, but we also need to incentivize those folks who are staying,” she added.
Infante-Green said Providence is doing so by adding more supports for teachers, including a mentor for every teacher and creating a new Superintendent Teacher’s Cabinet, which she said will be a group of teachers who meet with Superintendent Javier Montañez to discuss various concerns and ideas.
“We have all these things that other districts do not have, and we’ve seen an influx of new teachers come our way,” Infante-Green said. “They all want to be here because of the students.”
Steph Machado (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a Target 12 investigative reporter covering Providence, politics and more for 12 News. Connect with her on Twitter and on Facebook.