ECISD taking on teacher shortage one bite at a time

Ector County Independent School District Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources Gregory Nelson compares the challenge of filling the district’s large number of teacher openings to eating an elephant: It’s one bite at a time.
There are a wide variety of new, continuing and revised initiatives that have been laid out, so the idea is to attract teachers with each segment so the 230 unfilled teacher spots can be made manageable.
“We’re managing it, but it’s not feasible for promoting student success so we have initiatives in place,” Nelson said. He added that the district believes each one of them can help make a dent.
Communications Officer Mike Adkins said there are about 400 openings overall in ECISD.
From what Nelson said he has learned, the teacher shortage in Odessa is unique. Lubbock and Amarillo aren’t experiencing anything out of the ordinary.
He went to a human resources administrators’ conference in December in Elgin and Nelson said they were shocked at the number of vacancies. Midland also is facing a teacher shortage of about 100 last time Nelson checked, but they have fewer schools and students than ECISD.
“… People around here understand and they say, ‘Wow. That’s a lot’ because they too go through cycles like this, but not quite nearly as a bad. People in Dallas, Houston, Frenship, Fort Worth and Northwest ISD, they have no clue,” Nelson said, because they get multiple applications for each opening.
El Paso also has no trouble attracting teachers because a lot of people come out of college and they go into a classroom immediately as a paraprofessional so they’re ready to step in when a teacher spot opens, Nelson said.
Nelson describes the factors creating the current lack of teachers as the perfect storm of high housing costs, low wages before the tax ratification election passed, and the chance to make more money in the oilfield.
Before the tax ratification election passed, the ECISD Board of Trustees voted to fold retention bonuses into teacher salaries bringing them to $47,500. With passage of the TRE, starting salaries are at $50,000, which Nelson said has made a difference.
Human Resources representatives have gone to El Paso to recruit teachers for a number of years. They normally go with two people and they aren’t very busy, but this time they got more interest because of that $50,000 figure, Nelson said.
It hasn’t borne fruit yet, partly because of the lack of affordable housing.
Nelson said in his view, housing is the No. 1 reason ECISD is having difficulty getting new people to come here and it’s a “major factor” in people leaving.
The district offers housing for single teachers, he said. Asked if the district would consider buying or building some housing, Nelson said there are some considerations in the works, however, he’s not fully knowledgeable about them.
“But I do know the district is aware that we could impact our bottom line if we had more available housing single and family housing I know that the superintendent, assistant superintendent, they’re doing some research on that now so hopefully that will help,” Nelson said.
He added that he’s hoping the Permian Strategic Partnership, a group of 19 oil and oilfield service companies in the Permian Basin and Eastern New Mexico, will help.
Nelson said when the partnership interviewed him about a month ago, he told them if they couldn’t help with housing, the trend of losing people because of housing won’t be reversed.
There are several partnerships ECISD is involved in with Odessa College, University of Texas Permian Basin and Texas Tech University and TNTP, formerly called The New Teacher Partnership, aimed at filling those openings.
The school board also approved expanding use of Proximity Learning, a virtual education company connecting qualified teachers with students in grades kindergarten through 12 to core classes. Nelson said that will fill five openings.
Sandra Banda, human resources director over recruitment, substitute services and Title 9, said the district is in the process of implementing TNTP.
Nelson said it was offered through Region 18 Education Service Center last summer, but it is now with ECISD.
“We’ve made great headway in the last month, so our applications for TNTP will be ready to roll out on the 28th of January,” Banda said.
Candidates for the program will be internal, she said.
“We’ve made decisions that will hopefully open up the application process to a larger group of people that we feel will be successful in being able to go through this program. Then right after moving to classroom jobs, they will continue to finish out their certification,” Banda said.
The goal is to have at least 20 candidates who could start filling openings next fall.
Nelson said the program would be for anyone in the district who has a bachelor’s degree, but is not certified to teach.
He added that ECISD also is putting the word out to furloughed federal workers during the government shutdown.
“We’re reaching out to any federal workers in Midland or Odessa who have been furloughed and invite them to apply to be a substitute during the time they’re off work. We’ll get them trained as quickly as possible and in the classroom. Also, if they want to come and take a job on a part-time basis we could hire them on a part-time basis even though they may only be available for another week or another month. …,” Nelson said.