The Virginia Department of Education is working to alleviate a teacher shortage across the commonwealth that is beginning to affect rural areas like Smyth County.
“It is very bad in Virginia,” said Smyth County Superintendent of Schools Dr. Dennis Carter. “Some in Smyth but no major impact yet. It is becoming more difficult each year to fill our vacancies, especially in special education, elementary and middle school, particular subjects and grades. Not as many people are going into the profession.”
Part of the problem may be salary and benefits, Carter said, but there are no doubt other reasons are factors as well.
In the 2017-18 school year, the top 10 critical shortage teaching areas identified by the commonwealth were special education, pre-K, middle school, career and technical education, math grades 6-12, school counselors in all grades, secondary English, foreign languages in all grades, health and physical education in all grades, and secondary history and social sciences.
To teach in Smyth, a teacher must: hold a license or provisional license by the Virginia Board of Education; hold a three-year license to teach high school career and technical education courses in specified subject areas; or be hired to teach in a trade and industrial education program and for whom the teacher licensure requirements have been waived by the VDE.
Carter said some teachers are working to complete certifications or degrees and are hired on a provisional license. To help these teachers complete their training, the commonwealth has allowed an extension of the three-year provisional license for one or two more years providing a total of up to five years for the teacher to complete certification.
The policy has already been implemented by the commonwealth, Carter said, and should be approved by the local school board at the July 31 special called meeting.
“We’ve had great success in getting teachers through in three years,” he said, “but in the future this policy could be helpful” in hiring and retaining quality teachers.
A recommendation from the superintendent for this extension must be accompanied by satisfactory performance evaluations for each of the teacher’s original three-year license.
Helping save lives
In other business at the July 9 meeting, the board heard from Kelly Spencer Hill with Blood Assurance who thanked the school system for its support of the various student programs in the past year.
“Because of the school districts willingness to think outside of the box, to coordinate and host drives, Smyth County Schools saved over 800 lives through the generosity of volunteer donors,” Hill told the board. Those programs involved students of all ages.
Blood Assurance implemented a Half Pints for Life Program that proved to be successful in elementary and middle schools across the region, she said. Blood Assurance hosted the inaugural Apple Bowl – a friendly competition between Chilhowie and Northwood high schools during the 2017 football season.
“Although the Warriors came up victorious on the field, Northwood rallied their community to collect 52 useable units of blood saving 156 lives from that drive alone,” Hill said. The Apple Bowl will be held again this year along with additional bowl drives for Marion Senior High School.
Chilhowie High School Band is currently in competition for the Battle of the Bands Scholarship during the summer months, Hill said. The band hosted a drive in June in an effort to win one of two scholarships: $1,500 based off the total number of useable units or $750 based off of a percentage of the total school enrollment. The announcement will be made in August.
Hill said that according to donations collected per school, the number of lives saved is: Rich Valley Elementary/Northwood Middle (42); Oak Point Elementary (135); Northwood High (252); Marion Senior (132); Chilhowie High/Chilhowie Middle (153); Marion Middle (54); and Chilhowie Elementary (81).
Blood Assurance is a non-profit, full-service regional blood center serving 51 counties and more than 76 health care facilities in Virginia, Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama and North Carolina.
Blood Assurance notes that one in seven units of blood is donated by a high school student. There is a surrogate program for students who are not eligible to donate blood but who can recruit donors and organize blood drives through Project Lifesaver.
“We rely heavily on these students,” Hill said. “Students as young as 16 can donate with parental consent. The students can earn points toward a cord of courage for graduation.”
There is also a Senior Superstar medallion program for seniors who earn a cord and who recruit 25 or more new donors to Blood Assurance.
High school students are eligible to apply for the Crystal Green Memorial Scholarship available to Project Lifeline High Schools, of which Marion, Chilhowie and Northwood are members. Project Lifeline is the high school blood drive program specific to Blood Assurance.
And while they are too young to give blood, elementary and middle school students can get involved in the Blood Assurance program. Hill said they can participate in what is called the Half Pint for Life to help promote blood donations. By encouraging their parents and teachers to donate blood at school blood drives, these young students practice community involvement and learn early on the importance of donating blood for patients in need.