- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Teaching programs at Virginia’s colleges are not producing enough graduates to fill the growing demand of the state’s classrooms.

“We’re producing a little less than half of the teachers that we need,” Virginia Department of Education spokesman Charles Pyle said.

The department does not collect data on the number of teacher vacancies, but a survey found that state schools hired 7,357 teachers for the 2005-06 school year. The state’s education programs produce about 3,100 teachers a year, according to the department’s most recent data from the 2004-05 school year.

The shortage is especially evident in the Northern Virginia suburbs, where booming populations have propelled school district growth.

Loudoun County school officials are looking to fill 800 to 1,000 openings by August, said Paul Webb, the school system’s director of personnel.

The district plans to open four schools for the 2007-08 academic year: one middle school and three elementary schools, spokeswoman Ivy Allen said.

“As we open the number of schools that we’ve been opening each year, the number of teachers we need increases,” Ms. Allen said.

Loudoun didn’t open any new schools for the 2006-07 academic year, but opened five schools — two high schools and three elementary schools — for the 2005-06 year, she said.

Prince William County, which has built 14 schools in the past five years, hires 850 to 900 new teachers every year, spokeswoman Irene Cromer said.

Officials with Prince William and Loudoun schools aggressively recruit teachers at the state Department of Education’s annual spring job fair, which draws representatives from every school district in Virginia and candidates from across the country.

Loudoun recruiters also attend about 50 college fairs nationwide and sponsor a local job fair, Mr. Webb said.

Though the schools — especially the new ones — need teachers of all subjects, certain subjects draw fewer applicants.

Loudoun officials face a tough time recruiting teachers for math, science, foreign language and special education, Mr. Webb said.

The same is true for Fairfax County, where school growth has leveled off in recent years, schools spokesman Paul Regnier said.

The public school system conducts a competitive recruitment process nationwide and usually does not have trouble soliciting enough applicants, but always needs teachers for special education and English for speakers of other languages, Mr. Regnier said.

High demand and recruitment challenges are only part of what Virginia Education Association spokesman Bill Johnson calls a “perfect storm” creating a teacher shortage.

Retention also is a problem, Mr. Johnson said, noting that roughly half of all teachers leave the profession within the first five years of their careers.

“There’s a tremendous need for new teachers, but we’re not producing enough — and once we get them in schools, the working conditions and salaries are not enough to keep them there,” he said.

Starting salaries for teachers in Northern Virginia are $41,000 to more than $42,000, but vary by locality.

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