‘We are in this together’: DCPS superintendent lays out plan for navigating teacher shortage as school year looms

District leader says average class size districtwide to increase by 1 or 2 students amid staff shortfall

In a message to district staff Wednesday, Duval County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Diana Greene announced that class sizes will increase by one or two students across the district.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – In a message to district staff Wednesday, Duval County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Diana Greene announced that class sizes will increase by one or two students across the district.

“This challenge isn’t new,” Greene’s message said. “It became particularly acute last school year. This year, like last year, we are prepared to respond as needed to achieve the primary goal of giving our students the best learning experience possible even within these extraordinary constraints.”

The news did not come as a surprise to DCPS staffers, who navigated the 2021-22 school year with a deficit of roughly 400 classroom teachers and even more support staff and paraprofessionals. That deficit, Greene said, has yet to be eliminated.

“We all know that our district is confronted with an unprecedented shortage of teachers to meet our normal staffing levels.” Greene’s message said. “There are currently more than 400 teacher vacancies, and we are also anticipating a shortage of about 175 paraprofessionals as we look forward to the first day of school, Aug. 15.”

Greene announced several strategies the district will employ in order to lessen the strain on educators.

Adjusting teacher-to-student class ratios

To accommodate that strategy, Greene announced that the average size of K-8 grade classes across the school district will increase by 1.5 students and that the average size of high school grades will increase by one student.

“For instructional quality for all students, it is better that we have one or two more students in a room with a qualified instructor than having large groups of students go for long periods of time without a qualified instructor,” Greene’s message said.

Greene said there would likely be even more vacancies in the district if DCPS failed to make these changes. She added that the change will not affect funding for ESE (Exceptional Student Education), ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages), art, music and physical education.

“We continue to have the goal of meeting state requirements for class size while balancing the primary need to ensure qualified teachers are providing instruction for students,” Greene’s message said. “The increases will be monitored at the school level in relation to these requirements.”

Certified teachers in non-teaching positions supporting classes

To help fill some classroom vacancies, the district announced that key district staff members who are working in non-teaching, administrative positions — yet are still certified to teach in Florida — will step in to temporarily fill classroom vacancies.

“Those personnel will work with their supervisors to integrate classroom coverage into their weekly schedules,” Greene’s message said. “These individuals are highly experienced, successful educators who typically support other teachers.”

More substitute teachers

The superintendent also said the district will work to deepen the pool of substitute teachers, which took a massive hit during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The district is working with an education staffing agency, ESS, which “specializes in placing qualified staff in daily, long-term, and permanent K-12 school district positions such as substitute teachers, paraprofessionals, and other school support staff,” according to the district’s website.

In addition, Greene said, she and other administrators will again pinch hit in classrooms.

“District administrators, including me, will also fill in as we did last year,” Greene’s message said. “Many of our administrators have extensive, high-quality teaching experience.”

Greene has said in the past that she likes to schedule at least one day a year to substitute teach, but amid the recent staffing shortages, the move became a more and more frequent necessity.

Property tax initiative for teacher salary

Voters in Duval County will decide on Aug. 23 whether to increase the county’s millage rate, which would generate a projected $81 million in revenue each year.

Currently, the millage rate that is specifically earmarked for DCPS is 5.8080, meaning that for every $1,000 of a home’s taxable value, the owner is sending roughly $5.81. The proposal being discussed in Tuesday night’s Duval County School Board meeting would see that rate raised to 6.8080.

The millage rate increase would expire, unless extended, after four years.

Changes in state law forced the county to scale back its millage rate, such that even if the upcoming millage rate passes, the overall rate will still be lower than it was in 2008.

Superintendent addresses challenges

Greene ended the message by addressing the challenges that this school year poses.

Jack Leon, a teacher at Atlantic Coast High school, said this information arrived two weeks after it usually does, leading him to worry that more teachers will be dissatisfied with their assignments and quit.

“So, you’re not just dealing with the current teacher vacancies, you’re going to also have teachers that walk in and say, ‘I can’t do this,’ or ‘I changed my mind,’” Leon said.

Leon shared a message for students’ parents.

“Give the benefit of the doubt to the teacher sometimes and find out what’s going on versus just jumping to a conclusion that a kid gives you,” he said.

DCPS students return to classes on Aug. 15.