MURRAY — The need for new teachers has prompted education officials in the commonwealth to begin looking at ways to drive recruitment and combat teacher shortages across the state. 

According to a story posted in “Kentucky Teacher,” a publication of the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE), almost 5,000 open positions have been listed on the Kentucky Educator Placement Service (KEPS), a free KDE service dedicated to helping job applicants and school districts fill certified vacancies. As of this year, the number of college students pursuing degrees in education has declined by more than 13% over a five-year period. Education Commissioner Wayne Lewis said in the same story that such shortages will have negative impacts on Kentucky students by denying them access to good teachers. 

According to KDE, there has been evidence of teacher shortages in the commonwealth for several years. In the 2014-2015 school year, there were 6,247 open educator positions listed on KEPS; the number of open positions rose to 8,855 for the 2016-2017 school year. 

The shortages in Kentucky reflect a growing national trend. A 2019 report by the Economic Policy Institute said that while there was a surplus of teachers in the labor market in 2011-2012, the projected demand exceeded the estimated supply for the following year. That projected gap has grown sharply since that time and is expected to continue. 

Local school districts have also seen a decrease in the number of applicants for positions. Coy Samons, superintendent for the Murray Independent School System, said that the district has been able to find certified faculty, though, from a pool of fewer candidates than in the past.

“We have been very fortunate,” Samons said. “We have been able to fill our positions and feel very confident and very good about the quality of teachers we have hired. This school year, I believe we have had 17 new teachers. 

“What I have seen — and this is my third year here on top of 13 years as a superintendent prior — the number of applicants has significantly dropped just in the districts that I have worked in. But we have been very fortunate, and I think a lot of that has to do with our location and having Murray State University here.” 

Samons offered an example in the form of applicants for a physical education teaching position. 

“For example, for physical education, we only had two applicants for a vacant position,” Samons said. “In the past, if you go back 10 years or so, that might have been in the double digits.”

Calloway County Schools Superintendent Tres Settle was not available for comment Tuesday before press time.

KDE is looking to combat this shortage through a newly announced Go Teach KY initiative. The Teachers Advisory Council (TAC), a group made up of about 40 teacher leaders from across the state, discussed the importance of recruiting and retaining educators at its July 22 meeting in Frankfort. 

At that meeting, Lewis told the TAC more about the Go Teach KY initiative. That initiative will address the teacher shortage affecting Kentucky by highlighting the pathways to alternative teaching certifications. 

“Kentucky, as a state, has more routes to certification than most other states that I’ve heard of,” Lewis said in the story on kentuckyteacher.org. “We have done a miserable job at the state level of communicating to districts, to potential teachers and everybody involved of what the possibilities are of coming into the profession.”

Go Teach KY will focus on three avenues for teacher recruitment: 

• The teaching and learning career pathway available to high school students, in conjunction with Educators Rising, a student organization for middle school and high school students interested in education-related careers

• Active recruitment of college students and prospective college students into teacher education programs

• The eight options for alternative routes to teacher certification created by the Kentucky General Assembly for people who have demonstrated exceptional work and/or educational experiences.

In the story, Rob Akers, associate commissioner in KDE’s Office of Educator Licensure and Effectiveness, said spotlighting the alternative pathways to teaching is an important element of Go Teach KY.

“There is not enough awareness yet of these alternative pathways to teaching,” Akers said. “We believe that it’s important for us to lead in this work to support our districts in this effort to bring the best teachers possible to students of the Commonwealth.”

KDE said the U.S. Department of Education designates teacher shortage areas each year based on submissions by state education agencies. In the commonwealth, those shortages are grouped within the state’s 10 local workforce development areas (LWDAs), and said there were critical shortages in all 10 during the 2018-2019 school year. 

Shortages in the areas of early childhood education and exceptional children appear in more than half of the LWDAs, and shortages in career and technical education, English and communications, English as a second language, health and physical education, mathematics, science, social studies and world languages also appear in multiple LWDAs.

Here are the critical shortage areas in each LWDA:

• West Kentucky – career and technical education, early childhood education, English and communications, exceptional children, health and physical education, mathematics, science, social studies

• Bluegrass – early childhood education, English as a second language, foreign language, health and physical education, social studies, speech/language pathology

• Cumberlands – early childhood education, exceptional children

• Eastern Kentucky Concentrated Employment Program – career and technical education, early childhood education, English and communications, exceptional children, foreign language, mathematics, science

• Green River – exceptional children, science

• KentuckianaWorks – career and technical education, early childhood education, English as a second language, exceptional children, foreign language, mathematics, science

• Lincoln Trail – early childhood education

• Northern Kentucky – exceptional children, health and physical education

• Southeast/South Central – English as a second language, exceptional children

• Tenco – career and technical education, English and communications, exceptional children, science, social studies 

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