Vigilance for Vacancies

SFPS looks to close teacher vacancy gap, aided by alternative teacher licensure programs

As coursework for the second quarter of the school year for Santa Fe Public Schools kicks off, the district reports it has made progress on filling full-time teacher vacancies in the past year. In August 2022, officials were hiring for 66 positions; now, SFPS has cut the number by more than half.

Superintendent Hilario “Larry” Chavez says the district’s workforce investments are paying off.

“One thing we’ve done to be competitive is leverage [federal funds] into initiatives to fill vacancies,” he tells SFR. “Roughly, we have about 850 teaching positions, and when we’re at 28 vacancies, it calculates to just over 3%.”

Chavez says the reasons for reduced vacancies include SFPS’ new, low-cost child care center available to district employees and mental health wellness rooms for students—both projects that came thanks to federal money dolled out during the COVID-19 pandemic, which the district has also been using to cover program costs for teachers in an alternative teacher licensure program.

Approximately five of the remaining full-time openings are for special education teacher positions, with the majority of other teaching positions open at the elementary level. For example, César Chávez needs four teachers for grades 1 through 5; EJ Martinez needs a kindergarten teacher; Ramirez needs a 3rd grade teacher and Sweeney needs a 2nd and 3rd grade “combo” class teacher. Chavez notes staffing special education positions is “a work in progress” for the district, despite SFPS recently offering generous stipends to special education employees that led to more new hires.

“That is an area of need, not only for SFPS,” Chavez says. “When you really look at individuals going into a profession, especially if they’re in a college or university, they tend not to go into special education. It’s a high priority—it’s going to continue to be an issue.”

A 2023 report by the New Mexico State University’s Southwest Outreach Academic Research Evaluation and Policy Center found 751 vacant teacher positions in the state as of Sept. 8, with 268 in special education.

However, district spokesman Cody Dynarksi notes the numbers in the report may be inflated. Over the same time period, it counted more than 80 vacant teaching jobs at SFPS, when the district said it had far fewer.

The report’s methodology states researchers used school districts’ online job postings to calculate teacher vacancies, and many special education positions tend to be “split between school sites,” and could have been counted as separate positions, leading to the number of vacant positions to look higher, Dynarski explains.

“The district is in a better position than it has been in the last couple of years,” he says.

Janette Fonseca, the district’s director of human resources, tells SFR her strategy for filling the remaining slots includes continued recruiting such as hosting job fairs at the Santa Fe Community College where she can tap into students who might participate in the college’s alternative licensure program.

Chavez says further attempts to address vacancies also depend on “whether or not we can help universities create a pipeline into education.”

Graduate numbers from education programs at New Mexico colleges and universities have been declining in recent years. At the University of New Mexico, graduates from the College of Education and Human Sciences decreased from 174 to 138 between the 2018-19 and 2021-22 school years. Similarly, education degrees awarded per year from New Mexico State University decreased from 204 to 74 between 2012 and 2021.

However, the majority of new teachers in the state haven’t been receiving their teaching licenses from traditional programs: according to a 2021 brief from the NM Legislative Finance Committee, more than 60% of new teachers in public education come from alternative licensure programs, such as the program offered at SFCC.

Upon acceptance into a state alternative licensure program, students become eligible for an internship license that allows them to apply to be a teacher for two years at a public school district as they complete their coursework.

Dawn Wink, Santa Fe Community College’s director of teacher education, tells SFR the majority of participants in the college’s program are working full-time within Santa Fe Public Schools while studying for their licenses, about 150 students.

“Nationwide, fewer people are entering traditional programs in the field of education,” Wink says. “What alternative licensure programs and institutions of higher education allow people to do is, if they have a degree in another field, and decide if they want to teach, this is the path to get there.”

Wink says students engage in core classes to learn theories of teaching and learning, classroom management and curriculum development and assessment. After completing core classes, students can choose an area to specialize in teaching, such as elementary, secondary and special education.

Dynarski tells SFR some district employees who used the alternative licensure program have even moved up to district-level positions, including Deputy Superintendent Vanessa Romero.

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