Newark Unified explores creative solutions for teacher shortage

Newark Unified School District Superintendent Penelope DeLeon talks about the teacher shortage at the district's Board of Education meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 5. (YouTube Screenshot)

NEWARK, Calif. — As the new school year kicks off, the Newark Unified School District, like many schools nationwide, faces the daunting task of filling crucial teaching and support roles. To be successful, Superintendent Penelope DeLeon says the district needs to consider innovative solutions.

During the Board of Education meeting Tuesday, Sept. 5, DeLeon stressed the need for proactive measures to address staffing shortages and ensure they don’t persist into the next academic year. The district needs to be able to offer a competitive compensation package, DeLeon said, floating the idea of repurposing closed campuses into employee housing to address the high cost of living in the area.

“We need to do some big things as a district to make sure that we are competitive,” DeLeon said, “to provide resources for teachers, to do some outside-of-the-box thinking.”

Last year, Newark Unified had the highest vacancy rate in the county, approximately 7.5%, coupled with one of the least competitive compensation packages, which has failed to keep pace with inflation. Over the past decade, inflation stood at 31.9%, while wages at Newark Unified only increased by 18.99%.

Steve Burrell, the district’s interim executive director of human resources, reported that the district still has numerous vacancies, many filled by long-term substitute teachers. The hiring process is still ongoing, and the district is actively recruiting to fill those positions permanently.

One potential interim solution under consideration is partnering with Elevate K-12, a platform connecting districts with certified teachers who can livestream lessons to middle and high school classrooms.

“It could be a promising alternative,” Burrell said. “While not the best alternative, better than a vacancy.”

Student Board Member Joy Lee expressed a preference for permanent teachers, noting that they “are always much better.”

Collaboration with the teacher’s union is also underway to support current staff, Burrell said.

To attract classified staff, alternative marketing approaches, such as using platforms like Indeed, are being explored alongside traditional methods like advertising the jobs on EdJoin.

“If I’m a cook or a bus driver, I’m not looking at EdJoin to find a job,” Burrell said. “I’m looking at Indeed and other job boards.”

Board Clerk Aiden Hill acknowledged that Newark faces recruitment challenges, particularly due to a lack of health benefits. He suggested using word of mouth to recruit community members who might need a job.

Recruiting and retaining teachers in education has been a long-standing challenge, further exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, which led to retirements and departures from the profession. The California Commission on Teacher Credentialing estimated there were 10,000 teacher vacancies across the state during the 2021-2022 school year.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond has been advocating for Senate Bill 765, currently making its way through the state Assembly, to help alleviate the current shortage. The bill aims to make it easier for retired teachers to work and offers financial incentives to people interested in pursuing teaching careers.

For more information on becoming a teacher, including how to get a $20,000 scholarship, email or visit the state Department of Education website. To learn more about positions at Newark Unified, visit the district website.

Photo caption: Newark Unified School District Superintendent Penelope DeLeon talks about the teacher shortage at the district’s Board of Education meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 5. (YouTube Screenshot)

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