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Religious coalition tells school district to fix teacher shortage problem

A coalition of about 40 religious and social service organizations said Wednesday that the Clark County School District needs to fix its teacher shortage problem and needs to fix it now.

“Our feeling is, there has to be a sense of urgency,” said Robert Hoo, lead organizer for Nevadans for the Common Good. “This is a present crisis that affects many students, especially disadvantaged students. And, it has to be a comprehensive plan.”

Nevadans for the Common Good consists of about a half dozen social service organizations and about 36 Christian and Jewish institutions. Its goal is to work together to build relationships, find common ground on issues, and act in nonpartisan ways to improve life for all Nevadans.

Education and the teacher shortage are among several issues the group discussed Wednesday with the Las Vegas Review-Journal editorial board.

The group is calling for the school district to end the teacher shortage by 2020.

The district filled fewer than 1,700 of the estimated 2,600 teaching positions to start the school year in the fall. The district still had more than 700 vacancies about halfway through December.

“The linchpin of it is, you can have all these programs, but if you don’t have qualified educators, then those programs aren’t going to succeed,” Hoo said. “So the whole system needs to be oriented around what are we going to do to invest in children, to improve results, which means investing in educators whose responsibility it is to teach them.”

Michael Gentry, co-chief human resources officer for the school district, said he hopes to see the shortage resolved not by 2020, but by August.

“I want to focus on the fact that when we start the year, it will be with a licensed teacher in every classroom,” said Gentry, whose chief duty is recruitment.

Besides normal recruiting, the school district has worked on a direct marketing campaign to reach some of the 3.2 million public school teachers in the United States.

To date, the district has 9,000 candidates in the pipeline for the 2016-17 school year.

“The majority of the focus now is helping get those teachers successfully through the application process,” Gentry said. “We will get them vetted and make sure we have the best teacher possible for each position. We want to get at least three candidates for every possible position. I’m optimistic that we’ll prevail at this.”

The Rev. Dr. Marta Poling-Goldenne, a leader for Nevadans for the Common Good, said her group is not just poking holes at the school district. It sees the teacher shortage issue as a communitywide problem, and believes the whole valley has a stake in it.

Nevadans for the Common Good plans to address the shortage and other topics during its May 9 convention at the Cashman Center.

Poling-Goldenne said the organization expects about 2,000 attendees, including Republican and Democratic leaders, School Board President Linda Young, and Adam Johnson, who is challenging Young for her seat in the November election.

Las Vegas Review-Journal writer Neal Morton contributed to this report. Contact Natalie Bruzda at nbruzda@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3897. Find her on Twitter: @NatalieBruzda

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