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Central Arkansas schools continue fight against national teacher shortage

Last fall, 45% of public schools across the country dealt with a teacher shortage, and that trend continues to impact Arkansas just a month before school starts.

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — A nationwide teacher shortage continues to impact Arkansas.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 45% of public schools across the country dealt with a teacher shortage last fall, and it's no different in the Natural State.

North Little Rock and Little Rock schools are still working to fill a few dozen positions just a month before the 2023-24 school year starts.

However, a few new teachers want to be a part of the solution.

Jarred Green and Truli Bates are newly certified teachers through Arkansas Teacher Corps and Southern Arkansas University's education program, respectively.

They shared an excitement for teaching you don't always hear during a national shortage.

"Being able to do that for kids and making an impact at a younger age of development," Green said. "I couldn't turn it down."

Bates said the need for teachers around the country added to his interest in the industry.

"I think it motivated me more than anything," Bates said. "I also see the need for teachers right now, good educated teachers."

Between retirements and resignations this year, the Little Rock School District had to hire about 175 new teachers, while North Little Rock needed to fill 131 spots.

Both school districts still have a few dozen vacancies. While those numbers look big initially, it's nothing new, and both districts intend to fill the positions.

"That's relatively in the trend, which has been consistent with how many new teachers, brand new or new to the district, we hire," North Little Rock Superintendent Greg Pilewski said. "It's about 130 to 150 teachers a year, so that's not unusual for us."

LRSD and NLRSD said they plan for every scenario in case they cannot fill all the spots.

"In the event that we don't have a high-quality teacher [to fill the vacancy], we do have support folks that are in those non-teaching positions that are certified teachers," Pilewski said. "We might have to look at that as some alternatives."

But even with an entire staff, schools are still feeling the impacts of a teacher shortage.

"We can fill a vacancy, but are we filling the vacancy with the best prepare candidates?" Little Rock Superintendent Jermall Wright said. "Especially in the area of math and science and special ed."

Data from the Department of Education revealed that some of the significant shortages in Arkansas last year were in high school math, science, social studies, and language arts— subjects Green and Bates can't wait to teach.

"I know that so many people are invested in these kids," Bates said. "If I were a parent, it would definitely give me peace of mind."

While searching for new instructors, the districts said they are also focusing on ways to care for the teachers they already have.

"As we prioritize those things, and make our district one of which teachers feel valued," Wright said. "I believe we will begin to win some of the battles we're facing with our teacher shortage issue."

Another factor schools are watching is how the Arkansas LEARNS Act will impact enrollment and staffing. LRSD and NLRSD said they won't know those impacts until it gets closer to school.

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