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Growing Pains: Explaining the teacher shortage in St. Johns County

A high-ranking school district struggles to fill teaching positions while dealing with a population boom, fewer education college graduates, and high home prices.

ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. — Cynthia Williams, the woman responsible for recruiting teachers to St. Johns County, has her work cut out for her.

"I have been recruiting teachers for the school district for over 25 years," Williams said. 

She speaks with hundreds of perspective teachers, trying to get them to work for St. Johns County schools.

Her job is much tougher at a time when there is now a teacher shortage.

As of Nov. 1, St. Johns County has 69 open teacher positions. That's about enough to staff a school.

"Yes, we need more teachers," Williams nodded.

The shortage is nationwide, but St. Johns County is in an especially tough spot.

From 2010 to 2021, St. Johns County’s population grew from about 190,000 to more than 275,000, increasing by 3.4% a year. 

Many parents move to St. Johns County so their children can attend school in the high-ranking school district.

In the last few years, the student population in St. Johns County has increased about 4% a year. This year, it’s up 7%.

"So when you double that, like this year, we were talking about well over 2000 new students," St. Johns County School Superintendent Tim Forson said.

While there are more students, teachers are hard to find.

To begin with, fewer people are studying to be teachers.

"We began to see smaller college of education classes graduating," Forson explained.

Secondly, it’s hard to keep up with the booming student enrollment. 

And third, there is a lack of affordable housing in St. Johns County.

"That plays a role certainly in our ability to recruit teachers," Fortson said. "It’s expensive to live in St. Johns County."

A beginning teacher’s salary is $45,000 in St. Johns County. The average single-family house price in St. Johns County is $423,000.

So the county is getting creative to fill the teaching gap. Some of those who usually work in the district offices are now teaching in classrooms. 

Williams said the county also has substitutes. Also, the district is recruiting people who may have not taught before or those who don’t want a full time job.

"If you just want to work part-time, we will be willing to work with you," Williams smiled.

The goal is to not let this teacher shortage affect students.

"We want to be able to keep our students in the best possible academic situation that they can be in," Williams nodded.

She continues to recruit teachers hoping to keep pace with the number of students coming in. 

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