© 2024 WHRO Public Media
5200 Hampton Boulevard, Norfolk VA 23508
757.889.9400 | info@whro.org
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Virginia using multi-pronged approach to address teacher vacancies

A map showing Virginia's school regions with the depth of their teacher vacancy rates. (Image by Virginia Department Of Education, VADOE Website)
A map showing Virginia's school regions with the depth of their teacher vacancy rates. (Image by Virginia Department Of Education, VADOE Website)

Virginia wasn’t an outlier in learning or teacher loss in the wake of the pandemic. But new teacher licensure programs, backed with state funds, are hoping to curb the shortage of educators parts of the Commonwealth are facing.

This story was reported and written by Radio IQ

Turner Penton is a tech ed teacher at Tucker High School in Henrico County. In the past he was a prison guard, worked in retail but had his longest stint working in a daycare center. But now, helping kids get socially and mentally adjusted to the real world, he’s thrilled to be working in a space where he feels like he’s making real impacts.

“As a teacher it's like ‘yes, your job is necessary,’” Penton told Radio IQ. “These kids need somebody who can balance for them that free expression, while conforming to what society wants.”

Teacher vacancy rates are just below 4% according to the  Virginia Department of Education, but the state is working with local divisions to help address the issue. Among hopeful solutions is the  Grown Your Own program which funds teacher apprenticeship programs to help promote educators already in the community.

Penton is using the  iteach program, a digital licensing system that started in the state last summer. With over 650 future teachers in the pipeline across 62 divisions, they’re expecting their first class of fully licensed teachers by the end of this school year.

Laura Estes runs Virginia’s iteach program. She said localities can cover the cost for applicants (Turner Penton’s fees are being covered by the county) and the flexibility of the program offers a different path to address teacher vacancies.

“It’s a new era and I think it's important to have a menu of options to bring people to the classroom,” Estes, herself a former Virginia educator, said in an interview.

Notably, the teacher vacancy rate has stayed stagnant for the last two years, and it’s worse than the 2021-22 school year when it was closer to 3%. Still, Department of Education spokesman Todd Reid said they’re hopeful the multipronged licensure approach may offer a light at the end of an understaffing tunnel.

“There’s absolutely a light there to fill these positions, bring in great teachers and have great folks there, but they’ve got to concentrate on it and make it a priority,” Reid said.

The state distributed over $1.5 million to 24 school divisions through the Grow Your Own program earlier this year. Another wave of funding is expected in the coming weeks.