New Haven starts school year with ongoing, but improving, teacher shortage
New Haven resident Zoe Williams started first grade on Thursday at Edgewood Magnet School. She was antsy when her father, Josh Williams asked her how she felt.
“A little scared,” Williams said.
Zoe is starting school, but she may not have a full-time teacher dedicated to her class. That’s because Edgewood has four teacher vacancies according to its principal, Nicholas Perrone.
New Haven’s district is relying on substitute teachers as it grapples with a district and statewide teacher shortage. But district and teachers’ union officials say staffing levels have improved overall compared to previous years.
New Haven Public Schools have around 1,900 teachers. But the district’s new superintendent, Madeline Negron, said the district is losing teachers.
“Last week, we were very proud that we hired 24 new teachers, but at the same time, we lost 20. So this is the challenge, right, that we are dealing with,” Negron said.
The statewide teacher shortage worsens the problem, because so many districts are actively looking for teachers, Negron said.
According to the Connecticut State Department of Education, nearly all teacher categories listed in a July 2023 memo are facing statewide shortages.
But that’s actually an improvement, according to New Haven Federation of Teachers President, Leslie Blatteau.
“We are holding on to more of our teachers, I will say, this year than we have in the past,” Blatteau said.
Blatteau praised Negron for her experience and community roots, but said New Haven teachers may want to leave due to feeling unsupported..
Some of the complaints surround classroom sizes, building maintenance issues and pay. Other, more wealthier districts in the nearby suburbs, can afford to pay more. But Blatteau credited the new teachers’ contract for improving staffing levels, which raised teacher salaries.
As of now, New Haven’s district has 91 teacher vacancies. Hillhouse High School has the most vacancies with ten open positions according to Justin Harmon, a spokesperson for New Haven Public Schools. One position is in the process of being filled with a hire.
So the schools will rely on other staff to handle the workload for the time being, according to Negron.
“We have been working very hard with our building leaders to make sure that we are developing plans, utilizing the existing staff utilizing substitute teachers, because I want to make sure that our students are greeted by a teacher in every classroom starting today,” Negron said.
Getting subs might also be an issue. Negron said sourcing them could be challenging and Harmon said the district has a total of 311 substitute teachers on hand with more hires on the way.
Most substitutes do not belong to a union, and only 94 are union members. There is a pay disparity, but it's not much to begin with, according to Blatteau.
“Overall pay for New Haven public school substitutes is quite low,” Blatteau said.
Substitute teachers make approximately $105.00 a day, Blatteau said. Permanent substitute teachers, she said, make $130.00 a day. One avenue to improve substitute teacher numbers, she said, is improving access for professional learning opportunities and better pay.
Despite these challenges, Negron said the district is able to meet staffing goals.
“Right now, we are feeling very confident that we are in a good place to ensure that we are able to position substitute teachers in every building that still has classroom vacancies,” Negron said.
Negron is starting the school year traveling to different schools across the district, touring classrooms and talking to educators to learn more about the district she is now leading.
She’s calling it her Entry Plan, and part of her plan involves reviewing retention and recruitment data in order to help craft a 2024-2027 Strategic Operating Plan.
Negron said she wanted to learn the realities of what the district is facing by touring classrooms and learning more about the day-to-day challenges.
“I am not going to walk in here with assumptions," Negron said. "I need to know what the realities are, what are the brutal truths.”