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Despite Shortage, Tulsa Public Schools Fills Teacher Vacancies

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The district said it has 500 new teachers this year. The district said it has 500 new teachers this year.
Shawna Simpson is starting her second year teaching fourth-graders at McClure. Shawna Simpson is starting her second year teaching fourth-graders at McClure.
A typical school year at Tulsa Public Schools starts with 50 teaching vacancies, but Superintendent Dr. Deborah Gist vowed this school year would be different. A typical school year at Tulsa Public Schools starts with 50 teaching vacancies, but Superintendent Dr. Deborah Gist vowed this school year would be different.
TULSA, Oklahoma -

Despite a state-wide teacher shortage, Tulsa Public Schools said all of its classrooms will have a certified teacher when school begins Thursday.

The district said it has 500 new teachers this year, and more than ten percent of them are emergency-certified, meaning they may not have the formal training that a certified teacher would.

Still, district officials said they've hired quality candidates this school year, and they're proud of the accomplishment.

Shawna Simpson is starting her second year teaching fourth-graders at McClure.

“I'm anxious, I'm excited. I'm nervous because I have so much left to do,” Simpson said.

She and other teachers are hoping this school year is different from the last - when McClure was down nearly 20 teachers, forcing some classes to combine with nearly 35 students in one class.

A typical school year at Tulsa Public Schools starts with 50 teaching vacancies, but Superintendent Dr. Deborah Gist vowed this school year would be different, and it is.

"Herculean is probably a good description. It was incredibly difficult," Gist said.

Difficult because the shortage in teachers is hitting the entire state; many blame low pay as Oklahoma teachers are paid $5,000 a year less than the average American teacher.

To fight the shortage, Gist said the district started recruiting early; and for the first time, allowed principals to hire candidates.

"We came to the realization that something really significant and dramatic needed to happen to tackle this problem," she said.

And the changes worked - Tulsa Schools are fully staffed for the time, but Gist said there's still more work to be done to keep those teachers there.

"When our students come back to school on the first day of school, they want to be greeted by their teacher. And they deserve that," Gist said.

Simpson said, “Now that I'm here, I can't imagine a better place to be."

Other districts, like Jenks and Sand Springs, said they only have a few vacancies while Broken Arrow still has more than a dozen spots to fill.

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