Wilkinsburg school district has shortage of teachers

Lee McFerren, Superintendent, Wilkinsburg School District
Lee McFerren, Superintendent, Wilkinsburg School District (Courier Photo/File)

WILKINSBURG, Pa. (AP) – One of the lowest-scoring schools in the state has a reason for some of its problems: a lack of certified teachers in some subjects.
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (https://bit.ly/JeTEZv ) reports an art teacher conducts chemistry classes at Wilkinsburg High School, while a health and physical education teacher is handling French classes.
The school scored 36.3 out of 100 in a new ratings system meant to measure which Pennsylvania schools are on path to success. Schools scoring 70 or above are considered to be on that path. The state Department of Education released performance scores this month for all 3,200 traditional, charter, cyber and technical schools.
Wilkinsburg High School’s score was the lowest in Allegheny County and the 17th-lowest out of public schools in 500 districts in the state.
Only 13 percent of the schools’ students scored proficient or advanced in algebra, and 18 percent did in literature, with just 3 percent reaching that level in biology.
Teachers are being used in classes outside their areas of expertise because the district hasn’t been able to find a certified chemistry or French teacher, said the school district’s human resources director, Andrea Williams. A certified French substitute quit in November and the teachers’ union contract requires the district to recall a furloughed teacher whenever a certified replacement can’t be found for a given subject, which is how the physical education teacher came to instruct the French class.
Williams said the district has since found a certified substitute French teacher, but some school board members in the predominantly Black district are upset because that teacher was disciplined in 2010 after allegations she used a racial slur in neighboring district.
The art teacher running the chemistry class is not a previously furloughed teacher, but a substitute who has worked in the district for four years. That teacher is using an Internet-based curriculum to help students.
State Department of Education spokesman Tim Eller said the district should have certified teachers for both subjects, or request an emergency certificate for both teachers – something the district hasn’t done. The state tracks teacher shortages by counting the number of emergency certificates it issues, though that number has declined in recent years.
Still, Eller said, specific districts sometimes do struggle to find certified teachers in certain subjects.
School board President Edward Donovan, who is a faculty member and program director of the department of education at nearby Chatham University, was surprised the district was using noncertified teachers.
“I know the way things ought to be,” Donovan said. “What I don’t know entirely is how much out of whack things are in the way we are now.”
Information from: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, https://www.post-gazette.com


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