- Associated Press - Sunday, December 11, 2016

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) - The number of students enrolled in teacher training programs in New Mexico has dropped while the state struggles to fill hundreds of vacant teaching positions across the state.

Researchers at New Mexico State University’s College of Education reviewed vacancy data from the state’s 89 school districts through mid-October and found nearly 600 open positions. Most were teaching jobs, but there were also vacancies for counselors, social workers, speech therapists and administrators.

“It’s dire,” Karen Trujillo said of the shortage. She helped compile the report released by the college late last month.

In Albuquerque, public schools need more than 200 substitute teachers to fill the gap. The district started a hiring push last week.

Antonio Gonzales, interim superintendent for human resources, said Albuquerque schools are like the rest of the nation and the shortage is having a trickle-down effect on substitute teachers.

The district - the largest in the state - has over 120 teacher openings, 56 of them in special education. English as a Second Language, math and science also are high-need areas.

Rio Rancho schools have about three dozen vacancies, and Santa Fe needs to fill 16 spots.

The NMSU study comes on the heels of a legislative report that says many teachers in New Mexico leave the profession long before retirement age because their pay levels off and they have little financial reason to stay.

Another Legislative Education Study Committee report issued this year said New Mexico ranks 43rd in the nation for teacher pay, which affects the state’s efforts to draw and retain teachers.

Santa Fe Public Schools Superintendent Veronica Garcia told The New Mexican (https://bit.ly/2ggW5Qz ) that the local district continues to struggle to recruit and retain highly qualified teachers, particularly those who are bilingual and certified to teach special-education students.

Special-education positions, which make up more than a third of the state’s public school vacancies, are the toughest spots to fill, the recent legislative report says. It also says small, rural districts have difficulty attracting new teachers.

Public Education Department spokesman Robert McEntyre said the agency has been working on efforts to attract and retain teachers.

“In addition to raising starting teacher salaries twice,” he said, “New Mexico now offers additional pay for the highest performing teachers, incentives to recruit more teachers for hard-to-staff areas and subjects, and support and professional development opportunities like the teacher mentorship program.”

Trujillo said most school districts do not conduct exit interviews with teachers and other employees to find out why they quit. But she said increasing demands and a decrease in the public’s respect for educators may be partly to blame.

The NMSU report recommends that lawmakers direct state education officials to study recruitment and retention and conduct a review to see where graduates of New Mexico teacher training programs go to work.

It also suggests providing incentives for teacher assistants to pursue education degrees.

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