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Parents decry ‘staffing crisis’ in Alexandria City Public Schools

Alexandria parents are up in arms over a staffing crisis within Alexandria City Public Schools.

Kelly Organek says that her ninth-grade son at Alexandria City High School’s Minnie Howard campus hasn’t had a geometry teacher since school started in August and that he only recently got a new biology teacher.

“We are in a staffing crisis that is not okay for our children,” Organek testified to the School Board last Thursday night (Oct 5). “Since August 21, my son has had to teach himself biology and geometry. We have no way to know if he’s learning the material.”

ACPS staff also provided an update on staffing woes. The school system currently has 55 central office vacancies, as well as more than 100 licensed and non-licensed school-based positions. Just how many teachers are needed is not clear, and ALXnow is awaiting a more comprehensive breakdown of ACPS staffing needs.

“We’re at a point now where people are just looking for bodies to put in classrooms and that makes me so sad,” said Board Member Meagan Alderton. “I think the people on the ground, the HR (human resources) folks, have got to do the work.”

The ACPS employment page lists dozens of vacant positions, including high school science, math and history teacher jobs.

“We do know that the last couple of years have been very challenging for all of our staff,” Superintendent Melanie Kay-Wyatt said.

Margaret Browne, the ACPS director of recruitment and retention, said she is working on streamlining the onboarding process so that applicants can start work faster. She also said that ACPS advertised positions on radio stations, television, newspapers and online media, and that she and her staff conducted 13 job fairs in-house and traveled to 40 career fairs around the country last school year, including to Puerto Rico.

“I anticipated that we were going to do a large number of events last year and I’m ready to set a new record (for job fairs),” Browne said. “We’ll go down the Eastern Seaboard. This time we are going west and we’ll also do Puerto Rico again.”

The school system is also short 15 bus drivers and is offering an additional 5% raise for drivers over the course of the next three years.

Browne said that ACPS will also focus on marketing to people switching careers within associations and military organizations.

David Paladin Fernandez has been an ACPS 6th and 8th grade general education teacher for eight years. He said that his salary has been frozen half that time, and that due to an impasse over collective bargaining that the school system is running short on special education teachers, bus drivers, paraprofessionals, guidance counselors, therapists, audiologists and more positions.

He also brought a red velvet cake to the School Board meeting.

“Our district is facing a staffing crisis like we’ve never seen, and our management would rather spin stories than face the reality that their recruiting and retention efforts are simply not enough,” Fernandez said. “School Board members, tonight you have heard and will hear from a number of Alexandria citizens who have been personally impacted by the decisions ACPS management has made under your watch. These citizens come to you asking, nay demanding that you start holding management accountable because the things that they are saying to the public do not match the actions we see. It’s as ridiculous as offering cake at a School Board meeting.”

Rene Pascal, the acting head of human resources for ACPS, said that teachers should feel incentivized to work for ACPS by paying smaller premiums on their health plans (see graph in above gallery).

Alexandria City High School parent Sarah Schultz said that ACPS is not being transparent on staffing woes.

“We’re asking our children to receive instruction without teachers,” ACPS parent Sarah Schultz told the Board. “We feel strongly that ACPS should not take the stance that online classes are a reasonable substitute for in-person instruction, especially for required courses and question the equity of moving groups of students to online while the rest of the students receive in-person instruction.”

Two ACPS recruitment videos made earlier this year are below.