Monday, November 12, 2007

School hiring in Sacramento

This story from the Sacramento Bee:
School hiring falls short

Hiram Johnson is relying on substitutes in 2 dozen classes as it waits for district to recruit.

By Kim Minugh - kminugh@sacbee.com
Published 12:00 am PST Saturday, November 10, 2007

Two months into the school year, Sacramento City Unified School District still has not hired enough teachers to handle more than two dozen core academic classes at Hiram Johnson High School – leaving nearly 400 of the district's most struggling students in the hands of substitute teachers.

The English, science and math classes – some of them remedial sections or classes designed for English-language learners – are being taught by substitutes who are not required to have a credential or a degree in the subjects they're teaching. Class rosters show that some of the 400 students impacted are in at least two of these classes.

A school district policy that limits a substitute to 20 days in a class has meant that at least two substitutes have rotated through each class.

Teachers at the school say they have witnessed visible consequences of the arrangement: poor student behavior, busy work assigned to occupy time, students correcting substitutes' academic mistakes. They worry about about the unseen impacts.

"Watching this waste in the classroom day after day is enough to break your heart," said Larry Tagg, a drama and English teacher who has been at Hiram Johnson for nine years.

The shortage of teachers apparently stems from an unexpected influx of students, according to teachers and a Sacramento City Unified School District spokeswoman. The school had expected about 1,800 students this year but got roughly 2,000.

To comply with a 32-student class limit that's dictated by the teachers union contract, administrators shuffled students and created about 26 new classes, all led by substitutes.

Six teachers are needed. Sacramento City Unified teacher salaries range from $40,000 to $85,000, excluding benefits, with the median at $66,000, according to the district.

Why they haven't been hired isn't clear.

Tagg went before the school board last week to ask that the substitutes be replaced with credentialed teachers. In an interview with The Bee, he said Johnson's interim principal, Cynthia Swindle, told him she had pleaded with district officials to hire more teachers. Swindle did not respond to a call and e-mail seeking comment.

Tagg has started encouraging affected parents to call the district and ask for answers.

He and other teachers said they are left to assume the district is trying to balance its budget on the backs of those least likely to make noise.

More than one-third of the school's students come from families where English is not the dominant language, so most of their parents have difficulty communicating with educators. More than half come from impoverished families.

"They'll take whatever you throw at them, and they won't complain," Tagg said of the community served by Hiram Johnson.

But Maria Lopez, a Sacramento City Unified spokeswoman, said that is a "mistaken perception."

"I think that ... getting permanent teachers into those spots will happen as quickly as possible, and everyone's working to that same goal," she said.

Staffing levels became an issue before the year even started, Lopez said, when a few teachers left to work at other schools. The issue was complicated by an unexpected jump in enrollment of 240 students.

In the 10th week of school, Lopez said administrators are reviewing the figures to make sure that the names on roll sheets are in fact students in the classroom: It is not uncommon, she said, for students to enroll and then fail to show.

"I think part of it is that there was an expectation that maybe the numbers wouldn't hold fast," Lopez said. "There is a lot of (transiency), especially at some of our south-area schools."

Lopez acknowledged, however, that such enrollment verification typically happens earlier in the school year.

"I don't think it's common" to do it this far into the year, she said. "We try to get classes leveled off as quickly as possible."

The delay in hiring teachers has meant valuable time wasted, teachers argue. Hiram Johnson is under critical pressure to improve: Last year, only 28 percent of the school's ninth-graders, 19 percent of its 10th-graders and 14 percent of its 11th-graders tested proficient or advanced in English.

When compared with schools statewide, Hiram Johnson is in the lowest 10 percent.

Ailing test scores have landed Hiram Johnson in the second year of Program Improvement, a series of sanctions imposed on struggling schools under the federal No Child Left Behind law.

Teachers question how they'll reverse that trend with so many substitutes on the rolls.

"How can we raise the school's test scores when all these students are being baby-sat?" Tagg asked.

"I find it revolting," said English teacher Kirk Zaro. "What if it was my kid in one of those classrooms?"

Lopez said she expects all students at Hiram Johnson to have permanent teachers by Wednesday.

That might be accomplished by moving students around to level out class sizes, if administrators determine that enrollment figures are inflated. If not, she said the open teaching positions would be posted on the district's online job board.

As of Friday night, no such positions had been posted.

Now, lets consider this. Anyone who has been a teacher knows that substitutes, even well meaning substitutes are no match for a teacher. And, with English Language Learners the need for special teaching strategies is even more urgent.
There are credentialled teachers looking for work in Sacramento. Look at the schools hiring program at Sac State.
This occurs because someone in the district is not doing their job. This should have been resolved in 2-3 weeks.
This is not a new problem. Contrary to the statement of the School District spokesperson, the personnel department for Sac City Schools has been a troubled land for years.
Let me be clear. This would never be permitted at a middle class school. They get away with this because parents and politicians don't demand change.
If my kids were in these classes, I would be raising hell. It is appropriate for the teachers to be objecting.
Duane Campbell
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