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A wrench in the site selection process: no new teachers allowed

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

As readers have pointed out on our blog, schools were cancelling interviews with prospective new teachers and putting hiring processes on hold after a Wednesday email from Superintendent Arlene Ackerman to principals announcing a hiring freeze on new teachers.

The problem, Ackerman said, is that there may not be enough District jobs to absorb all the current teachers wishing to return to the District next fall. She wrote:

"As a result of a number of changes to our staffing for the fall, we currently have a pool of over 1,400 teachers in all subject fields and grade levels who will need a placement for 2010-2011. Although a number of them will be selected through the upcoming transfer and site-based selection process, I am concerned that there will not be sufficient vacancies to accommodate all who will need a placement. Our resignation and retirement rate has been lower than in past years, which is positive, but it also means fewer vacancies for existing staff.

"For the time being, effective immediately, I am freezing all new teacher hiring, with the exception of the Charter schools, whose positions are not subject to the PFT contract. Those of you who have teacher and counselor vacancies will shortly be invited to interview those in the placement pool and to make your selection from among those teachers.

"I am not certain if and when the hiring cycle will open to consider requests for new hires."

Estelle Matthews, the District’s chief talent officer, said the freeze on hiring new teachers should not slow down the process, and she emphasized that the intent was not to halt site selection hiring, but just to exclude new teachers from the pool. "We are on target with our hiring timeline," she said.

"Our top priority is to help these 1,400 teachers find positions back in the District," Matthews said. "Let’s be fair; we’ve got some really good teachers here."

She would not predict at what point new teachers might become eligible.

While Matthews was praising the caliber of the available teachers, a major contributor to the large pool needing to find a placement is the force-transfer of more than 500 teachers due to the District’s Renaissance Schools initiative. All teachers at the 14 targeted schools must find a new position or reapply if they want to stay on at their school. Some of those schools are destined to become charters. Any current District employee who is hired by a charter operator will cease to be employed by the District. But teachers who choose to remain employees of the District or who are not hired by the charter operators will need to find positions elsewhere in the District.

Also among those looking for positions, Matthews said there are 95 District teachers who worked without a permanent school this year – "supplemental" teachers whose assignment was for one year only. In addition, about 80 teachers’ positions districtwide have been eliminated due to enrollment declines, according to District budget documents. There could be additional forced transfers caused by position changes at schools.

Finally, the pool of 1,400 teachers awaiting placement includes any teachers who have opted to switch schools and are seeking a new assignment.

Matthews said the District would honor its agreements with Teach for America and Philadelphia Teaching Fellows to supply new teachers this fall, but added, "We can’t move on the bodies" until current teachers are placed.

Philadelphia has worked hard in recent years to speed up its convoluted hiring process which has usually lagged behind other districts in the region, meaning the best and brightest went elsewhere.

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