Philly SD: zero teacher vacancies for first day of class

Classes begin for 151,000 students in the Philadelphia School District on Tuesday.  As of Friday afternoon, every teacher vacancy has been filled, human resources chief Estelle Matthews said.

That’s a pretty big deal for a district that as of a few weeks ago had more than 1,000 teaching jobs open.

Late Friday, Matthews said there was just one vacancy — a librarian’s position.

“We’ll get one,” Matthews said.  “It’s just that we didn’t have any librarians laid off.  We’ll post it, and I’m sure we’ll get one soon.”

The hiring timeline was thrown off this year by 2,700 layoffs — including roughly 1,500 teacher layoffs — and a disagreement between the district and the teachers’ union on whether teachers at Promise Academies, the district’s turnaround schools, could be exempted from the reduction in force.

The district ultimately backed away from its attempt to exempt Promise Academy teachers — who work longer school days and years than others but typically have little seniority — from layoffs.

But the fight froze hiring for weeks, and it did not resume until mid-August, months after the process typically begins.

Matthews said she was able to call back more than 600 teachers from layoff.

Some were called back off but rejected jobs.  But others re-joined the district.

“A few people cried,” Matthews said.  “They had tears in their eyes. We never intended for this to happen, and we wanted to make sure that everyone was taken care of."

Staff worked long hours, including nights and weekends, to make sure classrooms were staffed in time for the first day of school, she said.  

And despite the late start, “we’re in better shape today than we were last year,” in terms of teacher vacancies, she said.

A tough economy is partially responsible for the lack of vacancies, she said.  

Matthews credited the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers for its partnership with the district, and PFT vice-president Arlene Kempin had warm words for the district, too: “They did an amazing job,” she said.

“I am so pleasantly surprised,” said Kempin.  “I really was not expecting the classroom teacher vacancies to be filled by the start of school, but I’m thrilled that they are.  In terms of having a qualified teacher in every classroom, that’s wonderful.”

It's also good news given the rocky past few weeks, which have been dominated by news of departing Superintendent Arlene C. Ackerman.

Though the teacher vacancy number is down to zero, officials do expect a few teacher no-shows or resignations on the first day of school — anywhere from two to 20.

Teachers or other school staff: were you laid off and called back?  Displaced by Renaissance schools, or for other reasons? What was your summer of uncertainty like? I'd love to hear your story in the comments.