AUSTIN, Texas — The Texas Education Agency (TEA) announced on Tuesday it is expanding its Teacher Vacancy Task Force to ensure equal representation of teachers and school system administrators.
The TEA announced the formation of the task force earlier this month. Its aim is to address staffing issues facing public schools across the state.
According to the TEA, much of the staffing challenges across the state are the result of population growth, jobs requiring special skills and COVID-19 spikes. Also, the $18 billion in relief funds given out to soften the impact of COVID-19 on schools over the past two years has created new roles to fill.
Following its first meeting, the task force recommended expanding membership to more classroom teachers across the state.
It's an issue that school districts have been dealing with for years.
"If you've been in education for as long as I have, you've seen this coming," said Norma Castillo, the executive director of talent at Austin ISD.
Castillo is now part of the Texas Education Agency's task force to better understand staffing challenges that public schools face.
"Those range from everything from increased state requirements to compensation issues to lack of planning time," Castillo said.
The data from Austin ISD, according to Castillo, shows that teachers are leaving after their first or second year. She said they really need to target the root causes as to why they're leaving.
"I would really love to change the narrative of teachers. I would hope that the community in the state would see teachers as who they are, as professionals, as providing a service that is is very difficult. And I I hope that this task force brings to light the complexities of what it's like to be a teacher so that we can get behind teachers," Castillo said.
Ken Zarifis, the head of Education Austin, a union for AISD employees, said he hopes the task force does more than just try to fill positions.
"Filling a shortage we're concerned will be done by undermining the profession rather than doing what's really needed to add to the workforce," Zarifis said.
He said the workforce is burnt out.
"It's important that we fund public education first and foremost, but, two, it's important that we treat the people within public education with respect and the dignity that they deserve," Zarifis said.
Josue Torres of Forney, a fourth- and fifth-grade math teacher from Dallas ISD, will serve as chair of the task force. Additionally, the task force is being organized into several workgroups to tackle the different challenges identified thus far, the TEA said.
“It is imperative that we include the insights and recommendations of current classroom teachers as the task force works to identify strong recommendations that can address the staffing shortages facing school systems across Texas,” said Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath. “This expansion strengthens the task force and includes more perspectives as we work to find far-reaching solutions to these challenges.”
Members will meet every other month for a year to discuss how to keep teachers staffed in Texas schools. Before Tuesday’s update, two teachers were listed as part of the task force’s dozens of members.
“I am honored for the opportunity to lead this task force focused on ensuring we have great teachers in every classroom,” added Task Force Chair Torres. “The reason I got into education is because I believe that a student’s ZIP code shouldn’t determine his or her fate, and this task force has the ability to recommend the needed changes and innovative solutions necessary to ensure all Texas students have access to the high-quality educators they deserve.”
For more information on the appointees and plans for the Teacher Vacancy Task Force, click here.
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