This week Clark County School District began its new school year with approximately 750 teacher vacancies. In a district comprised of 360 schools, the simple math works out to two teacher vacancies per school.
In reality, the vacancies are not evenly spread out. Schools in low-income zip codes are bearing the brunt of the shortage, according to an analysis by the Current.
It’s an unsurprising but overlooked component of educational equity that has yet to be addressed by the district or its trustees, say advocates, and it could lead to devastating lifelong consequences for low-income students who run the risk of having long-term substitutes for multiple grades across several schools.
According to Tya Mathis-Coleman, director of recruitment, the district focuses exclusively on luring teachers to the district as a whole, not to the individual schools within it. The central office does not actively monitor or analyze the vacancy levels at individual schools or within neighborhoods. It’s the job of principals to recruit to their school applicants from the district-wide pool.
“We are paying attention,” says Mathis-Coleman, “but it’s more of an issue of the building administrators. They are solely responsible for budget.”
To figure out which schools and neighborhoods are most affected by the teacher shortage, the Current analyzed the 737 teacher and licensed personnel job openings listed on the district’s website on Tuesday, the second day of the new school year.
The data shows vacancy levels vary widely by school — from zero to 14 open positions. Around three-fourths of the district’s 360 schools had at least one vacancy.
When schools are grouped by their zip codes, the differences in vacancies across Southern Nevada becomes even more apparent. With 56 vacancies, the zip code most affected by the teacher shortage was 89115, which includes the area immediately around Nellis Air Force Base and parts of Sunrise Manor.
Immediately south of 89115 is 89110, the zip code with the second highest number of vacancies (52). Immediately west of 89115 is 89030, the zip code with the third highest number of vacancies (36).
The median income in all three zip codes is below the countywide median: $33,893 in 89115, $45,121 in 89110, and $30,137 in 89030.
Generally speaking, the higher the vacancies, the lower the median income of that zip code.
It is an imperfect measure, of course. Some zip codes are more densely populated, leading to having more schools and more potential for vacancies. For example, 89118 is low in vacancies and has a median income below the countywide average, but the mostly industrial area (located immediately west of the I-15 and immediately north of the I-215) only has two CCSD schools within its boundaries.
However, as a rough measure, the analysis highlights an issue long raised by education advocates: Low-income, often racially diverse neighborhoods are disproportionately affected by educational shortcomings and a greater focus needs to be placed on addressing systemic issues.
Some schools began the academic year completely staffed or with only one vacancy. At the same time, at least five high schools — Canyon Springs, Eldorado, Western, Mojave and Sunrise Mountain — had more than 10 open jobs listed on the second day of school.
Mojave High School led the district in the number of job postings with 14 openings across a variety of subjects. The school is located in 89031, the zip code with the fourth highest number of teacher vacancies (35 vacancies).
The clustering of schools with vacancies means that, if teacher shortages continue to be an annual issue, students are likely to pass through elementary, middle and high schools with shortages.
That’s a major educational inequity, says local education advocate Sylvia Lazos.
“Studies have shown if a student has two consecutive poor teachers, they get so far behind they can’t ever catch up,” she says.
Mathis-Coleman believes equating long-term substitutes with poor quality is unfair. She says many of the district’s substitutes — or “guest teachers” — are university students on the path to becoming licensed teachers, or retired teachers who don’t want a full-time job for whatever reason. While that may be true in some cases, it would be difficult to track quality on a district-wide basis since those substitutes are hired by principals.
And having filling every classroom with a licensed teacher is still the ultimate goal.
Consider Mojave High School. Homes zoned for that high school are zoned for either Findlay or Johnston middle schools. The former listed five vacancies at the beginning of this week. The latter listed two, though its number would likely be higher if the school were not participating in a pilot program that provides financial bonuses for teachers who choose to teach there.
Similarly, homes zoned for Mojave are zoned for Scott Elementary School (six vacancies), Tartan Elementary School (four vacancies), Dickens Elementary School (four vacancies), Manch Elementary School (four vacancies), and Lowman Elementary School (six vacancies).
Compare that to Centennial High School, which serves the more affluent Centennial Hills master planned community on the opposite side of the valley from Mojave High School. Centennial had zero vacancies at the beginning of the year. Its feeder middle schools — Escobedo and Leavitt — had one vacancy each. Its seven feeder elementary schools were similarly staffed. Three had zero vacancies — Connors, Garhime and Bozarth elementary schools. Two had one vacancy — Divich and Darnell elementary schools. Three had two vacancies — Tarr, Deskin and Allen elementary schools.
Lazos contends the district has the information to make these connections but simply hasn’t acted on them in any meaningful way.
“We are always playing catchup and not playing long-term thinking,” she adds.
Lazos points to a Department of Education study that documented an ongoing trend of inexperienced teachers starting their professional careers at low-income inner-city schools and then moving to affluent suburban schools once they’ve gained the experience and knowledge to become the most effective teachers.
She argues incentive programs are needed more broadly and the trustees need to incorporate concrete measures into its overall strategic plan. Incentive programs have been piloted, and initiatives like Zoom have launched to attempt to boost vulnerable populations, but nothing has been implemented across the more than 100 schools that could qualify for them.
“The trustees have a strategic plan but it does not address the geographic intradistrict issue,” says Lazos. “It talks about achievement gaps and advancing the district overall but it doesn’t focus on this problem we clearly have of poor schools struggling. That needs to be addressed.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: An earlier version of the story stated the incorrect zip code for Mojave High School. The school is located in 89031, the zip code with the fourth highest number of vacancies.