Brevard Public Schools latest to use placement agency to help with staff shortage

Brevard Public Schools is one of the latest districts in Central Florida to hire international teachers to fill vacancies. It's part of the teacher shortage issue we've covered for years now. Education leaders say it's not getting any better, so more are turning to options like this.  

"Complete the two sections," announced Anjuli Downer to her class of fourth graders. 

Today's topic focused on the phases of the moon. Although she's new to the school and the U.S. - the 4th-grade curriculum isn't intimidating. 

"I've been working with these ages. 4th, 5th, 6th," said Downer. "The transition was pretty easy." 

Downer is originally from Jamaica - just like the new 3rd-grade teacher across the hall, Shandrene Lovelace. 

 "I've been here a week now," said Lovelace, "I was in the high school there. Now, I'm elementary." 

They're two of roughly 20 internationally certified teachers hired by Brevard Public Schools to fill vacancies. Five of the teachers were placed at Saturn Elementary, 

"District approached us about it," said Principal Kori Hurst, "I said, ‘yes, I'm on board." 

The schools participating in this program are Saturn Elementary, Coquina Elementary, Cambridge Elementary, and Imperial Estates Elementary. Principal Kori Hurst says she started the year with 9 vacancies. She was missing at least 1 teacher from every grade level from kindergarten to 4th grade. 

That's just one school.  New data from the Florida Education Association released this month shows an estimated 100,000 public school students in Florida don't have a full-time teacher. 

"We don't have enough teachers or subs to cover for all those vacancies out there. That means kids aren't getting the education they deserve and need," said Andrew Spar, President of The Florida Education Association. 

Brevard Public Schools isn't the only district that has used -- or considered - an international agency to fill positions. Flagler County Schools confirmed it's considering using the same agency – TPG - to fill vacancies. 

Osceola County Schools approved a contract with International TeachAlliance this summer to hire teachers from Mexico, South America, and the Caribbean this year. 

Downer says she knew the desperate position districts were in to find people like her and the impact of her work as soon as she walked into the classroom. 

"The district will benefit, the school will benefit because we're trained to impart knowledge to make sure students are meeting their targets," said Downer. 

The teachers are on a year-to-year contract with the district, but through the program, they have the ability to stay and teach for up to five years. 

Downer and Lovelace both said they're willing to stay through the end of their contract. 

But some education leaders say this is still a short-term fix to an exploding problem. 

"For a while, we've been looking to other countries. It seems like we're looking at it more and more," said Spar, "Unfortunately, what the data suggests is that folks often don't stay because they miss their family." 

Staff at Saturn confirmed at least through the TPG placement agency, teachers are able to eventually bring family members to the U.S. 

Either way, Florida Education Association President Andrew Spar is urging state lawmakers to look at long-term sustainable options this legislative session. 

He's renewing his call to state lawmakers to increase teacher pay and eliminate financial hurdles for new teachers. 

"Someone graduating from college, if they want to get into the profession it cost $700-$800 dollars in fees and testing," said Spar, "We need to get those waived. No reason teachers in this state - when we're dealing with this shortage - should be paying enormous fees." 

He also suggests looking at ways to bring more teachers out of retirement and get them back into the classroom. 

Lawmakers head back to Tallahassee in March.