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Teacher shortages continue to strain PPSD

Vacancies caused by pandemic, curriculum, certification requirements remain open

<p>According to Nicholas Domings, PPSD has higher-than-average retention rates when compared to other similar districts.</p>

According to Nicholas Domings, PPSD has higher-than-average retention rates when compared to other similar districts.

The Providence Public School District currently has 129 teacher vacancies, according to Maribeth Calabro, president of the Providence Teachers Union. These vacancies have been caused by various factors such as the COVID-19 pandemic, curriculum and certification requirements.

Teacher vacancies have been a problem for the district in recent years, Calabro said, and the number of vacancies has grown since the beginning of the year. The large number of vacancies takes a toll on students and teachers alike, she added.

Nicholas Domings, chief communications officer for PPSD, wrote in an email to The Herald that it is important to consider that teacher shortages are “a nationwide issue” and not specific to Providence. “People in education are resigning at a much higher rate than other sectors,” he added.

He wrote that while vacancies are high, it is important to compare the vacancies in PPSD to vacancy rates in other similar districts. Domings explained that “urban and high poverty districts have been hit much harder by COVID and teacher resignations.” 


When compared to other similar districts, PPSD had higher-than-average retention rates, Domings wrote. Teacher retention in similar urban districts ranged from 83% to 91%, and, in 2020, PPSD’s retention was 92%. In 2021, the retention rate was 88%, according to Domings.

Nationwide, the retention rate is about 92%, according to the National Association of Secondary School Principals.

But Domings noted that “PPSD is experiencing more teacher vacancies than in years past,” prompting increased retention and recruiting efforts from the district. These efforts include earlier job postings, sign-on bonuses and loan forgiveness. Additionally, he wrote, “the prime hiring season for education is March through June, so (PPSD expects) vacancies to drop significantly over the next few months.”

Calabro and others cited various reasons for the lack of teachers in the district, including COVID-19, too many requirements for the curriculums taught by teachers and teacher certification requirements.


Maya Chavez MA ’14, a former teacher at Dr. Jorge Alvarez High School in Providence, resigned in September partly due to concerns that COVID-19 conditions in her school made it an unsafe work environment. 

Providence Public Schools are operating fully in person with no remote option, The Herald previously reported. The average vaccination rate in K-12 schools in Providence is 35%, according to the district. In elementary schools, the vaccination rate is 15%. 

“I can’t imagine that if it were a different safety threat, it would be as ignored as it is for COVID,” Chavez said. “It felt deeply wrong to sit in my classroom and talk about civics, social justice and racial and ethnic disparities throughout society, all the while knowing that (the students) are unsafe, and that the policies of the district are going to disproportionately harm the same communities that were hardest hit by COVID.”

Domings wrote that the district has taken steps to mitigate the risk of COVID-19 prior to returning from February break. These steps include hosting 70 free vaccination clinics at PPSD schools, supplying every student and staff member with free KN95 masks and providing free at-home rapid tests to use.



Additionally, the district has supplied 1,500 air purifiers and 900 box fans to schools, as well as “ample supplies” of masks, hand sanitizer and sanitizing spray and wipes for all classrooms, Domings wrote. The district has also provided “15,000 Chromebooks and laptops to students for distance learning when necessary,” he added.

Curriculum requirements for teachers

PPSD has imposed curriculum requirements on schools aligned with standardized tests and “college- and career-ready standards” in order to increase the quality of education for students, according to the Rhode Island Department of Education website.

With an aim of increasing the quality of education, course materials must be in line with standardized tests, curriculum frameworks and academic standards, as outlined by state legislation passed in 2019.

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Calabro felt that many of these requirements have been harmful. “Many teachers feel that we have gone backwards (by) about ten years in terms of the rigor of content and the level of engagement that the content requires,” she said. 

Multi-language learner teachers, in particular, don’t feel they have adequate resources to meet the needs of the diverse student population, she added.

The shortage of teachers has also forced current employees to cover vacancies, resulting in teachers having too many classes or too many students, which “takes a toll,” Chavez said.

The demands of teaching in the district, which include meeting achievement requirements and handling heavy work loads, has put a strain on teachers, she said. “There’s no joy left in teaching. It is and has been an exhausting, mentally draining situation to have to be in.”

Certification requirements

Teachers are facing increasing demands to receive certifications in the district, such as the English Language Learner and Science of Teaching and Reading certifications, Calabro said. 

The district has “prioritized English language learners but not done the work to create a pathway for teachers to obtain that certification,” she said. “We have the ability to join cohorts for a variety of course offerings for the certification process, but, in Massachusetts, they did it at the school level, and it was at no cost to the teachers.”

Calabro acknowledged that the district supplements up to $8,000 for the coursework, but increasing certification requirements in areas teachers do not focus creates unnecessary challenges.

Chavez expressed frustration with the new requirements. “We risked our lives teaching during a pandemic before anybody was vaccinated,” Chavez said. “The district will give us funding for some of it, but you still end up paying … out of pocket. It’s a completely unreasonable expectation.”

“It’s not that people don’t want to have the additional certifications, but to spend your own money and have to do it on your own time is pretty untenable,” Chavez added.

In February, over 300 teachers received a notice that they may be displaced from their jobs, many due to a pending certification requirement, according to WPRI. Similar notices have been sent out in prior years, the Herald previously reported.

Calabro said that the district’s actions regarding certification requirements and teacher displacement notices are “wreaking havoc on morale in terms of transparency and trust” with the district and Department of Education.

“It is important to note that notices to staff are displacement notices, not layoffs,” Domings wrote. “Individuals are not losing their jobs, but either need to rectify licensure issues or apply to other jobs in the district.”

Domings wrote that the certification requirement is overdue. “While the composition of our student body has changed over the past decade, the qualifications for teachers have not. We need to have staff that are trained and equipped to support multilingual learners,” Domings wrote. “Moreover, beyond it being the right thing to do, we are required to do so by our settlement agreement with the Department of Justice.”

Domings wrote that the lack of certifications is not the fault of teachers, but the result “of decades of mismanagement of the district which the takeover was designed to rectify.” He added that the district has invested $5 million in helping teachers receive their ESL certification and has created a dedicated email for additional assistance in certification.

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