Teacher shortage to hit home

By BUSTER WOLFE,

Now that Pine Belt school systems have gone through the end-of-the-year fruitbasket turnover with staff and teachers, some shortages in teaching positions have arisen as administrators begin to refill and rework their teaching slots for the 2018-19 school year.

Superintendents in Lamar County as well as Hattiesburg and Petal are seeing difficulty in filling certain positions, usually special services, mathematics and science.

“It’s getting tougher every year and this year, it seems like in special services it’s getting more difficult to fill those slots,” Lamar County Superintendent Tess Smith said recently. “It’s becoming critical. Subjects like math and science are becoming more difficult.”

Lamar County faces a unique situation in the Pine Belt with the voluntary consolidation with the Lumberton School District.

“MDE has made some changes with (teacher) licensure that we can do going forward,” Smith said. “And we’re going from 16 campuses to 19 campuses, so it’s just that many more slots to fill.”

Petal Superintendent Dr. Matt Dillon said he faces the same difficulty with filling similar positions, but he sounded optimistic about the upcoming school year.

“We are very close to being fully staffed,” he said. “The three areas that we have the hardest time trying to fill are science, math and special education. We have an opening for one special education teacher now. We are in really good shape going into next year.”

The Hattiesburg Public School District is having the same types of open slots, Assistant Superintendent Dr. Michael Battle said.

“There are currently 25 vacancies within the Hattiesburg Public School District,” he said. “Science, mathematics and special education have proven to be the harder to fill positions.”

Battle said the school system is participating in a job fair on Thursday. “And we are hosting one on June 9 with hopes of filling many of the vacancies soon.”

Dillon said the difficulty in finding qualified teachers in more advanced subjects is a problem.

“Across the state, there is a teacher shortage in the number of students coming out of college into education,” he said. “Overall, I think we have had some quality applicants for our jobs.”

Smith said the graduation rate in education is hurting the profession.

“What’s scary is when you look at the number of students who are graduating in education, that number is dropping drastically,” she said. “I know Dr. (Ben) Burnett (William Carey University Dean of Education) is actively trying to promote and draw more people into the field of education.”

However, Smith said the Lamar County district is working diligently during the summer to be ready for the next school year, which begins in August.

“This time of year is very much fruit basket turnover,” she said,  “but hopefully within the next month or so, we can get that settled and get people locked in.”

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