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New collaborative program aims to help district grads address Tacoma's teacher shortage

TPS said students, according to recent research, are more likely to succeed when they see more teachers and administrators they identify with.

TACOMA, Wash. — Summer break for many public school districts was spent recruiting and hiring teachers.

In Washington state, meeting staffing needs and retaining teachers is a challenge.

In 2022, the teacher attrition rate in Washington was 8.91%, which was the highest in the previous 37 years, according to state data analyzed by Calder Center. The turnover rate was also high - standing at 19.76%. 

By mid-summer before the 2023-24 school year - Tacoma Public Schools (TPS) told KING 5 it had a little more than 200 positions to fill and about 80 of those openings were for teaching jobs. TPS said it does not fill all teaching positions before the start of the school year because they do not yet have a final outlook of enrollment.

While aiming to hire and retain teachers - some districts have additional goals in mind. Tacoma Public Schools is aiming to have its future teachers better match the diversity of its students.

TPS said students, according to recent research, are more likely to succeed when they see more teachers and administrators they identify with.

In the 2022-23 school year - TPS had 28,456 students enrolled. Of those students - 65% were students of color while the majority of the district's teachers, 80%, were white.

Plans are in place to further diversify the team of teachers within TPS.

“I was principal of Lincoln High School for quite a long time, and we hired a number of alums over the years and it really mattered," said Patrick Erwin, director of educative pathways for TPS. "It changed the culture of the school. It helped us diversify the teaching staff of the school.”

TPS, Pacific Lutheran University and Degrees of Change, a Tacoma-based non-profit, are working together to connect more diverse students with much-needed scholarships to enter the education field. 

The new program is called Seed Teachers.

“I think every child should have the opportunity to see somebody that looks like them leading a classroom," said Marquise Dixon, Degrees of Change CEO. "Not just from teachers' perspective but administrative perspective as well.” 

Seed Teachers is just getting started this year. Annually, the plan is to send about 20 TPS alums to PLU where they will earn a college degree and teaching credential debt-free.

TPS leaders said that in five years - change will be in motion and 100 new teachers will be in the process of studying or working. Those future teachers will then return to TPS and teach in their home district.

"Recruiting and preparing teachers that come from the community and stay in the community is essential to the vibrancy of a local community to students seeing teachers that are from the community that look like them, sound like them, share, cultural backgrounds, share the history of the neighborhood up Tacoma," said Mary Jo Larsen, PLU assistant dean of education.

Future Tacoma Public Schools Teacher: Lillian Garibay

Lillian Garibay, of Tacoma, just graduated from Lincoln High School.

While that was a highlight of her education career so far - Garibay wasted no time in setting a new goal.

Garibay is one of more than a dozen students who have been named Seed Teachers. The new program is giving her the opportunity to break barriers. Garibay called it a life-changing program.

One of the main partners in the Seed Teachers program is Degrees of Change.

Based in Tacoma, Degrees of Change is a national organization that serves students across the Pacific Northwest and Midwest. Of the students served, 90 percent are students of color, 70 percent are first-generation college students, and 80 percent are from low-income families. 

"I've never been offered the opportunity to be myself," Garibay said. "Being Hispanic, it's been difficult to step out of my comfort zone in a classroom."

About 23% of Tacoma's public school students are Hispanic. Garibay hopes to increase diversity in her hometown school district.

"I feel like as a student being offered a safe place and a place to show yourself and learn in a safe community, I feel like I could offer my students that by sharing my culture in my language in a different form," Garibay said.

PLU leaders told KING 5 that this is a crucial time to ensure new teachers are equipped to enter the education field and stay in the classroom.

“One of the lead drivers of teachers leaving the profession is not having the knowledge and skills to be affected in the role," said Mary Jo Larsen, PLU assistant dean of education. "So high-quality preparation is essential to Teacher staying and feeling like they can make a difference.” 

Garibay said she is already looking forward to how she will create her own classroom culture for students.

“I think having joy in the classroom and at least a little fun will bring students back in," Garibay said.

Western Washington School Districts Hiring Snapshot:

Everett Public Schools

Everett Public Schools primarily uses social media to post district job openings as well as Indeed, LinkedIn, and university job fairs for teachers. For classified staff - EPS said it is focusing on diversifying its workforce. The district is currently working with community partners such as WorkSource Everett, Workforce Snohomish, Housing Hope, and Evergreen Goodwill.

As of mid-summer, EPS had about 20 certificated openings with 15 classroom teacher vacancies and about 95 classified openings.

EPS has a continual partnership with the City University of Seattle. For the 2022-2023 school year, it had 15 classified staff receive their Teaching Certificates by June 2023. Classified staff receive a 15 percent tuition discount.

In 2018 - it established a consortium with the Marysville School District for the Recruiting Washington Teachers-Bilingual Educators Program. This partnership includes Everett Community College and the University of Washington-Bothell

At a late-summer job fair - EPS reported more than 120 applicants attended with 43 job seekers offered positions by the end of the event. There were 38 applicants who expressed interest in being placed in the classified substitution pool as well.

EPS has 18 elementary, five middle, and four high schools and more than 2,200 staff members. Its more than 20,000 students speak more than 90 different languages. 

Seattle Public Schools

As of mid-summer - Seattle Public Schools (SPS) had a total of 413 vacant district positions and 120 vacant teaching positions in various subject areas and grade levels). 

The district told KING 5 - that it has a shortage of Special Education Assistant positions with approximately 150 vacancies to fill by the opening of school.

SPS uses its careers page to recruit along with social media, Indeed, printed openings and other job recruitment options.

In 2022-23, the district had 4,035 teachers in total with 906 of them identifying as people of color.

When it comes to long-term recruitment efforts - the Academy of Rising Educators (ARE), in collaboration with the City of Seattle Department of Education and Early Learning (DEEL), helps SPS high school seniors and recent graduates earn their teaching certificate.

Kent School District

KING 5 reached out to the Kent School District (KSD) during the past few months for information about current job openings, teacher diversity and recruitment efforts, and received this response from the district's communications office on July 22:  "Our HR team is in the middle of recruiting and there are still staff resigning. This information will be compiled and shared with our school board after school starts."

According to the Washington Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction - KSD had 25,368 students enrolled in the 2022-23 school year, and 1,639 classroom teachers. 

Eighty-one percent of KDS's teachers were white, according to the 2022-23 state report card, while about 70 percent of its enrolled students identified as students of color. 

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