More than 600 students at Chancellor High School in Spotsylvania County are taking math and English courses using the online platform Edgenuity because there is no licensed teacher to instruct them in-person.
“At Chancellor, we have over 600 of our students taking math and English courses using the Edgenuity program due to three math vacancies and English vacancies,” principal Abe Jeffers wrote in an email sent Thursday morning to the parent of a Chancellor High School student.
Jeffers said the school has filled one vacant English position and has an interview scheduled with another candidate.
“For math, however, we have had no applicants to fill our three math positions, thus we’re forced to have our students use the teaching program Edgenuity, supervised by a substitute teacher, to learn math,” Jeffers wrote.
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The parent, Katherine Miller, forwarded Jeffers’s email to The Free Lance-Star. She said her daughter is a new student at Chancellor and that the family recently moved to Spotsylvania from Chesterfield County.
“(My daughter) reported that on the first day, her Algebra II teacher didn’t show up,” Miller said. “After the first week of school, she said, ‘Yeah, we don’t have a teacher. We watch videos that are recorded and we just teach ourselves the lesson.’”
Miller said math is the hardest subject for her daughter. She emailed her daughter’s counselor to ask if she could switch to a class with a teacher.
The counselor responded, “Currently, all of our Algebra II and (Statistics) sections are on Edgenuity,” according to the email, which Miller forwarded to The Free Lance–Star.
In his email to Miller, Jeffers apologized for not being able to “provide the math teacher (your daughter) and hundreds of our students need at this time.”
He said he checks each day for new applicants and “hope(s) each time that someone will be there.”
Asked about whether any Stafford County high schools are using the online platform in a similar way, division spokeswoman Sandra Osborn said, “We are not using Edgenuity to solve staffing issues.”
In an interview, Miller said she has had four children go through public schools in Virginia and Louisiana and has never encountered a situation like this.
“I’ve never had to advocate to get a teacher,” she said. “I don’t understand what’s going on.”
According to Virginia Code section 22.1-253.13:2, which lays out the state Standards of Quality, school boards “shall employ licensed instructional personnel qualified in the relevant subject areas” and “shall assign instructional personnel in a manner that produces schoolwide ratios of students in average daily memberships to full-time equivalent teaching positions of 21 to one in middle schools and high schools.”
School districts across the state and nation are struggling to recruit and retain teachers, with qualified math teachers being among the hardest to find, according to a 2019 analysis of 10 years of national data.
In Virginia, 4% of all math teacher positions were unfilled last school year, according to data reported to the Virginia Department of Education.
Spotsylvania, however, reported that 15% of math teacher positions —15.5 out of about 102 positions across the division — went unfilled last school year.
Stafford County reported that five out of 334 math teacher positions were unfilled last year.
According to VDOE data, Chancellor High was one of the 10 schools in Virginia with the most teacher vacancies last school year. Sixteen out of 85 teaching positions at the school went unfilled.
As of July 24, three weeks before the start of the 2023-24 school year, Chancellor still had to fill 13 out of 94 teaching positions.
In his email, Jeffers told Miller that the school is looking for ways to support students’ math learning by “finding teachers either in our school or other schools to check in with and even tutor students as they work through content.”
Miller told The Free Lance–Star that she is considering hiring a private tutor for her daughter.
“But not all families can afford a private tutor, and I don’t think they should have to,” she said.
In a statement, Amy Williams, chief human resources officer for the school division, said, “Spotsylvania County Public Schools is committed to providing excellent instruction in all subjects. Similar to many localities across the Commonwealth and nation, the teacher shortage is impacting all of our Spotsylvania County Schools. There is a critical shortage specifically in the area of mathematics that is impacting our high schools. The division is working feverishly to address this situation and is exploring all avenues to ensure our students’ success. This includes using evidence-based strategies to include online learning platforms such as Edgenuity for continued learning until another acceptable long-term solution is implemented.”
Williams invites anyone who is “interested in teaching math, and (has) a bachelor’s degree” to apply.
“Please also contact Dr. Chris Collier, Director of Human Resources, if you have any questions or need additional support,” the statement reads.
Adele Uphaus: 540/735-1973