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Vail starts school year with 188 new teachers thanks to 'robust' pipeline

Classes started on Monday at the Vail Unified School District with 188 new teachers hired for this academic year “because our district is growing ,” Superintendent John Carruth said.

The VUSD Governing Board approved their 2022-23 district budget Tuesday of last week and upped their spending on teachers salary to $35 million, a 19% increase from the year before and a $10 million, or 37%, increase from 2019.

The district has been “incredibly aggressive since January about hiring staff,” Carruth said, despite a nationwide teacher shortage. Of the 188 newly hired teachers, 140 will teach pre-K-8 grade, while the remaining 48 will teach at VUSD high schools.

“It takes a boatload of work,” he said. “The shortage is real. It just takes a whole lot of work.”

A shortage of teachers and support staff such as pre-K workers or special education assistants is affecting other Pima County districts and programs as well. PEEPS, the free pre-K enrollment program run by the county, was off to a slow start because of unfilled positions. Margaret Chaney, president of the Tucson Education Association, previously told TucsonSentinel.com that special education teaching assistants are in short supply in area schools.

The Tucson Unified School District is looking into an online solution to fill about two-dozen vacancies for middle and high school math teachers. On Tuesday, the TUSD Governing Board mulled whether to contract with Elevate K-12, a Chicago-based virtual teaching company, to live-stream math instruction due to the teacher shortage.

However, VUSD was able to hire nearly 200 teachers — leaving only six positions unfilled — through a series of job fairs this year and a “robust” pipeline of newly certified teachers, Carruth said.

“We work all year long to fill positions,” he said. The district will use six long-term subs to fill the remaining vacancies.

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About half of the new hires are the result of three job fairs put together by the district in January, February and June, Carruth said. Most of the others came through the Alternative Teacher Certification Pathway, a state-funded program that allows aspiring teachers to get their credentials while working as full-time teachers.

The Alternative Pathways program has been a “robust” pipeline of teachers for Vail, Carruth said. VUSD works with Pima Community College and Arizona State University to put aspiring teachers in the district’s K-12 classrooms to complete their training, and many of the teachers in the program come from the Vail community.

“Most of those teachers who are doing that are very connected into our community,” Carruth said. “I would say over a third of all those new teachers (in the program) are current or former parents in our school district.”

About 20 percent of the teachers hired in 2022 are also former students of VUSD schools, Carruth said.

VUSD has a total of about 980 positions for teachers, substitute teachers and teaching assistants, Carruth said. Some of those positions are new to 2022, but many of the new hires will fill positions emptied by “attrition,” Carruth said.

The district’s overall budget increased by more than $750,000 from last year “due to growth in our school district and due to additional funding from the state of Arizona,” Carruth said.

A few of the 188 hired teachers were hired last school year, but all of them are starting the school year with VUSD for the first time this week, Carruth said. All new teachers go through “a rigorous hiring” process, however, and a few of the newly hired teachers still have to complete that process.

Classes for pre-K-8th grade started in the district on Monday, but Vail high schoolers will start classes on Friday. Roughly 10,000 students are attending class in the district this year, Carruth said.

Carruth said the school is excited about the “high-quality” teachers that students will get to work with heading into the new school year, the second since the return of in-person learning.

“We’re very excited for the start of a new school year, and we’re worked incredibly hard to find high-quality adults to fill our teaching positions,” Carruth said. “We’re excited about the opportunity that lies before our young people in our community as a result.”

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Bennito L. Kelty is TucsonSentinel.com’s IDEA reporter, focusing on Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Access stories, and a Report for America corps member supported by readers like you.

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Students at Desert Willow Elementary School.