RUSSELL, Pa. – One of the driving forces behind the Warren County School District’s decision to adopt the hybrid Sheffield to Warren High model was the increasing number of emergency certified teachers in the district.
Near the midpoint of the 2023-24 school year, that issue still lingers, and recent data suggests it will become a bigger problem in the years to come.
According to a document* provided by Superintendent Amy Stewart during the Dec. 18, 2023 Committee meeting, the district currently has more than 50 emergency certified teachers and staff. The information was provided in response to a request from board member John Wortman who asked for the data.
“I feel that this board perhaps the most significant challenge we will face is to address the teacher certification shortage within the Warren County School District,” Wortman said during the Dec. 4, 2023 board meeting. “So I would ask that at our next committee meeting if we could be provided with more detailed information about the certification percentage within each of the district’s schools and our Virtual Academy. And if we could also have a more detailed breakdown of our Virtual Academy student population.”
Adding to the district data, WCSD Director of Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment Eric Mineweaser said he was recently at a conference where an even more alarming trend was shared.
“In the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in 2011, there were 17,111 new teachers coming out of the state teacher certifications, and the emergency certifications in 2011 was 1,845,” Mineweaser said. “So fast forward to 2022. The new teacher certifications for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania came down to 5,401 (that’s) 17,000 less in about a decade. And the emergency certifications surpassed the need for teacher certifications and they were at 6,366. So that trend doesn’t look like it’s getting any better either.”
After seeing the data provided at the Dec. 18 meeting, Wortman said he had two questions. The first was whether WCSD is using district personnel to teach students from other school districts through the Virtual Academy.
“All of our Virtual Academy staff with the exception, I think, of two people secondary English we have one teacher teaching the outside and one teacher teaching the inside,” Stewart said. “everybody else is blended teaching both inside and outside school districts at the same time.”
Wortman’s second question was, “How many positions within district schools that currently do not have a certificated person, have a certificated person in the virtual academy?”
Stewart said there are “a couple for sure,” but did not have an exact number.
Wortman requested the additional data be brought to the Jan. 29 committee meeting.
The certified teacher decline has impacted the curriculum WCSD can offer its students.
“At one point we offered in Warren County, you could have German, French, Spanish, Latin, and I’m pretty sure at least one school offered Russian for a while,” board member Mary Passinger said during a committee meeting in April 2023. “And we are now down to Spanish. That’s it.”
The next full board meeting is scheduled for Jan. 15, 2024.
*Editor’s note: WCSD Director of Pupil Services Dr. Patricia Mead pointed out that the two social workers listed in the chart had since received their certificate.