PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — More than 300 Providence teachers have received notices that they may be “displaced” from their position next school year, an annual process that is affecting more teachers than usual this year.
Displacement notices generally go out to teachers union members whose positions are being eliminated or changed, allowing them to apply for other jobs within the district before the next school year. But this year a large number of teachers received the notices because their emergency or temporary certifications are expiring.
District spokesperson Nick Domings said of the 312 outstanding displacement notices, 139 are “related to certifications of some kind.”
“We want to stress that displacement letters are not termination notices,” Domings said. “And the number of displacements will continue to decline over the next month as educators rectify the reason for their displacement, such as renewing a certification. Educators have until March 14 to do so.”
The number of emergency teaching certifications issued by the R.I. Department of Education has sharply increased during the pandemic, as some districts — including Providence — have struggled to hire teachers in hard-to-fill areas including math, science, special education and English as a Second Language (ESL).
A further breakdown of the displacement notices provided by the district shows 79 notices went out because a position is either being eliminated or converted to one that requires a certification that the teacher doesn’t have, such as ESL.
Providence has been gradually increasing the number of positions that require the ESL certification, in accordance with a Department of Justice settlement from 2018 and the state’s own turnaround plan, which aims to have 52% of teachers certified to teach multilingual learners (MLLs) by the 2024-25 school year.
Domings said teachers who committed to getting the ESL certification for their converted position did not receive displacement notices.
Last year, 270 teachers were displaced, in many cases because their classroom was being converted to an ESL classroom, and the teacher lacked an ESL certification.
The district has been moving towards fully integrated classrooms, where multilingual learners are combined with non-MLL students, rather than so-called “sheltered” classrooms where only MLL students learn together.
According to a presentation to the Council on Elementary and Secondary Education earlier this month by Providence’s executive director of multilingual learners, Jennifer Efflandt, more than 140 teaching positions will be converted to ESL or dual language for the 2022-23 school year.
Efflandt said more than 7,600 Providence students are MLLs, roughly a third of the district.
The displacement notices went out last week ahead of the annual posting of jobs, which is set for March 7, according to a letter sent to staff by acting Superintendent Javier Montañez.
“This gives displaced teachers ample time to apply to positions elsewhere in the district,” Montañez wrote. “Please note that in previous years, the vast majority of teachers who are displaced have found a position in another PPSD school.”
“We hope that the district is willing to work with those teachers that are eager and willing to get the certifications necessary to teach our children,” Sencer said.
He expressed some frustration that the district hasn’t made it easier for hundreds of teachers to get the ESL certification, including by expediting a plan to offer in-house courses within Providence schools.
An in-house ESL program is in the works, but has not yet begun, according to Efflandt.
“While this isn’t something that’s new this year, it’s been clear now for several years that the district could have done more to help teachers retain these certifications without disruption districtwide,” Sencer said.
He suggested the district use federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER) dollars to pay to get almost all of the district’s teachers certified. The district is currently deliberating how to spend $128 million in ESSER III funds from the American Rescue Plan Act.
As it stands, 27% of Providence teachers are holding and using an ESL certification, according to the district, up from 14% before the state takeover.
The district is offering $8,000 in tuition reimbursement for existing teachers who get certified in ESL at area colleges, and an additional $2,500 incentive for special education teachers getting ESL certified or teachers who get a dual language certification.
The teachers must stay with the district for two years, or else they’ll have to pay back the reimbursement.
New teachers joining the Providence schools are also being offered bonuses this year; a teacher who accepts a job in a hard-to-fill area will get $10,000 over three years, and an extra $2,500 if they sign a contract before March 1.