Woodland Hills faces teacher shortage as first day of school approaches

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Woodland Hills School District is facing a shortage of four teachers as of Wednesday night due to recent resignations received in the past week.

Only one position will possibly be filled by the start of the new school year on Monday, Woodland Hills Education Association president Paul Serbak said.

"It's caused us to have a few more than we would like in terms of positions not filled but we're interviewing like crazy trying to get them filled as quickly as possible," superintendent Alan Johnson said during Wednesday night's legislative board meeting, its first of the new school year.

The district reduced its timeline to a minimum of five days having an open position posted before the interview process can begin to fill the openings as quickly as possible, Mr. Serbak said.

Mr. Serbak also advocated for the board to enter into a one-year agreement with Kelly Services, which would provide substitute teachers for the upcoming school year. He said the district had a difficult time finding substitutes last year, forcing teachers to give up planning periods to cover other classes, sometimes multiple times in a week.

Last year the district spent almost $200,000 on substitute teachers, he said, and could save thousands by contracting out to the company. The board voted to enter the one-year contract in a 6-2 vote.

"It is so incredibly important for teachers to have their preparation periods," Mr. Serbak said. "One of the common feelings right now is that we're overwhelmed. The idea of having a sub service has taken some of those feelings away."

Board member and district parent Tara Reis said teachers should be held accountable for inconsistent attendance.

"Have we ever had a day in WHSD where every single teacher was here," she asked. "Is there a verbalized commitment on the part of our teachers to be here? We always tell our students how important it is to be here at school and be here on time. We need to hold our teachers to the same standard."

She said the district should implement a strategy in each building that would utilize reading, math and technology specialists when a school is facing a substitute shortage instead of taking away a teacher's planning period, and voted against the board entering the contract.

Only half an hour into the meeting, Churchill resident George Ratliff addressed the district's academic performance score for the 2012-13 school year.

The scores are mostly based on state standardized test scores, with additional factors including graduation rates and student attendance weighing in.

On a scale of 107 possible points, Woodland Hills scored 58, well below the Allegheny County average of 79 percent. The district was ranked in the bottom 10 of the 43 districts in the county.

Mr. Ratliff suggested several solutions to the board, including giving principals pay raises and more accountability in raising test scores, as well as removing tenure from teacher contracts.

"Obviously I'm very disappointed in our ranking, because I do know how hard our teachers work," Mr. Serbak said. "Now that we have more time to plan with these new substitutes, I would anticipate scores to improve based upon having more time to prepare for the Common Core tests and with our curriculum. We expect a lot from our kids and we know they can do it. It's not about teaching harder but teaching smarter."

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