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Teacher Shortage: How Suffolk is working to manage the problem

Suffolk Public Schools has 85 teacher vacancies compared to 106 on August 5. They’ve hired 53 long-term substitute teachers.

SUFFOLK, Va. — Students are heading back to the classroom soon, but there’s one problem: There are not enough teachers.

It’s a problem school divisions are dealing with across Hampton Roads. Thursday night, the Suffolk School Board discussed ways to solve the issue.

"The shortage is all over everywhere, the nation, the area, so just keep doing what you’re doing and hopefully we can continue to fill those positions," said School Board Member Lorita Mayo.

Chief of Schools Dr. Stenette Byrd said they still have 85 teacher vacancies compared to 106 on August 5. They’ve also hired 53 long-term substitute teachers.

"As of yesterday, our numbers have improved greatly," he told the board members. 

RELATED: Virginia Beach school leaders reaching out to retired teachers to fill part-time classroom positions

Until the division is fully staffed, their strategic approach varies based on grade levels.

Their first priority at all levels is to condense classrooms without overwhelming teachers. The second priority at the elementary and middle school levels are to use long-term substitutes, and adding a sixth-block class at the high school level.

They would also lean on a "hybrid sync teacher" that teaches virtually and in-person at the same time and a learning facilitator at the elementary level. For middle and high school, they will use the division's virtual platform.

"We are continuing to recruit year long," said Suffolk Superintendent Dr. John Gordon. "We also are expecting our next major push to be in December."

Those long-term substitutes will go through the same training as the full-time teachers, have a mentor and can take classes to become certified throughout the school year.

School Board Member Sherri Story objected to many parts of the plan, including that extra sixth block for high school teachers.

"That is why many of our high school teachers left-- the burden is too great," she said.

Then, Board Chair Dr. Judith Brooks-Buck urged her fellow board members to search for solutions, not problems.

"If we have better solutions than the ones our staff is coming up with, let’s offer those solutions," she said.

Students in Suffolk head back to school on September 6.

Suffolk is not the only school division working to tackle teacher vacancies. It’s a nationwide problem.

Coming up in just a couple of weeks, 13News Now will take a deeper look at how many staff members our schools need and what school leaders are doing to address the problem.

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