The Franklin County Schools have a math problem.
If you have three teachers, and you subtract all three, then how many are left after you add all the math curriculum requirements for middle and high school together with the total number of successful applicants willing and able to teach those courses?
So far, the answer is zero.
Faced with three vacancies in its math department, the district’s hopes are dwindling to fill them by the start of school August 8, particularly after a full-scale but unsuccessful effort in the spring and summer to recruit.
Rather than put in the classroom another teacher unfamiliar with teaching math, or a substitute likely not certified as a teacher, Superintendent Traci Moses is moving forward with a plan she believes has the best chance of success – the instituting of a blended learning lab reliant on online technology.
“I feel like it’s better to go to Florida Virtual School than the effect of hiring a long-term substitute,” Moses told the school board at its workshop Monday night. “It’s not an ideal situation. I think we’ve exhausted all efforts.”
After School Board Member George Thompson asked for details about the job search, Karen Peddie, head of the district’s human resources department, said the recruitment effort that began in the spring has been fruitless.
“I don’t know what else to do,” she said, after describing a full-scale advertising effort, job fair recruitment, contact with a long list of colleges and universities and extensive email communications with possible sources.
“It’s not for lack of trying,” she said.
Peddie had interviews lined up for Tuesday for a possible middle school math teacher. But pending a possible breakthrough, the district is preparing to implement the learning lab for high schoolers.
“It’s the best solution at this point in time,” said Moses. “Does that mean we’re going to stop looking? No.”
The district school lost all three of his math teachers beginning last spring, when David Cochrane relocated to the Tampa area to accept a position in the Hillsborough County school district. Breonne Murray, who had been commuting from Tallahassee, opted not to return, and then a few weeks ago, Kassi Malcolm, a new mom, decided to relocate closer to her family roots in Wewahitchka.
“We’re not the only district struggling,” said Peddie, noting that the number one obstacle in recruitment the district faces is being able to offer quality, affordable housing for prospective teachers. Her assistant, Allison Chipman, keeps her fingers on the pulse of the county’s rental market, and does what she can in working with real estate companies, Peddie said.
“They turn around and resign a week later,” said Peddie. “They can find housing cheaper somewhere else.”
Board members mulled possible solutions, but sounded their frustration.
“Apartments are what really brings us down,” said Chairman Stacy Kirvin.
Peddie told the board that while she can offer a $2,000 bonus to math or science teachers, because the area is critically short of those areas, that’s her limit, as per the teachers contract.
Kirvin suggested the board consider raising the bonus to $5,000, which would require reopening the contract with the Franklin County Teachers Association.
In addition, the board mulled a possible change to the policy that stipulates that any retired teacher who returns to the classroom must do so at step one on the salary ladder, and not at the higher salary he or she commanded when they completed their career.
Moses said the learning lab concept has been used successfully in other districts. As it is envisioned now, students in Algebra II, Geometry, College Ready Math and Liberal Arts Math, and possibly the middle school courses if no teacher can be found, would work in a computer lab linked to a Florida Virtual School (FLVS) certified math instructor off-site.
He or she would communicate directly with the students, who would work at their own pace as they move through the material. Teresa Segree would continue to handle the day-to-day oversight of the class periods dedicated to FLVS.
In addition, the newly hired elementary assistant principal Shelly Miedona, and high school guidance counselor Melanie Copeland, both certified math teachers, would be available to assist with tutoring, Moses said.
A 2013 FLVS report on blended learning labs indicated that their numbers throughout Florida doubled between 2011 and 2013, and no doubt has continued to grow in the last four years. The concept has been implemented throughout central and south Florida, and has been spreading to the Panhandle and Big Bend areas.
“Understanding both the potential benefits to students of online learning and the new expectations students will face in online courses is critical to implementing a successful program,” reads the report.
The report says that according to Dr. Barbara Means from the Stanford Research Institute International, when she compared traditional school outcomes to the outcomes at schools that blended face-to-face and online teaching, she found that “youngsters in the blended environments, with a teacher and technology, did ‘significantly better,’” and offered research that showed blended-learning schools allow students “more learning time, more content, or perhaps both.”
In 2010, the U.S. Department of Education presented research findings from various studies that favored online learning over traditional classrooms. “Those who took all or part of their class online performed better, on average, than those taking the same course through traditional face-to-face instruction,” said the report, citing the federal department.
“Blended learning merges the best of both traditional and virtual instruction and is becoming a worthy option for school districts struggling under limited budgets, a diminished range of course offerings, teacher shortages in hard-to-staff areas such as STEM, [and the] ever-increasing pressure to boost performance,” reads the report.
“Virtual learning courses provide a consistent format of learning for students. Content is presented in a predictable format which increases understanding and retention of the material. Students are able to work at their own pace while being exposed to more interactive content,” it said.