KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Knox County Schools in “good shape” amid regional teacher shortage according to Scott Bolton, Executive Director of Human Resources for Knox County Schools.

With school starting back for the county on Monday, Aug. 8, districts across the country have concerns with staffing shortages. According to Bolton, there are some vacancies in the county, but the school system is in good shape to start out the school year.

The most recent vacancy report from earlier this week reports 94 teacher vacancies. To put that in perspective, Bolton told WATE, there are roughly over 4,500 certified staff (teachers) in KCS.

“We’re in a pretty good spot… We at Knox County Schools, we staff richer than the state requires us in terms of teachers, so we have a little flexibility in the master scheduling should there be some vacancy that we are covering maybe a few weeks into the class… into school starting.” Bolton said “Parents should not be concerned that their students would not have a teacher in the classroom come the start of school.”

In the school system, 67 schools had no vacancies as of Tuesday, Bolton said. Another 19 schools have two or less vacancies. Bolton said the reason for those vacancies come from two notable sources.

During the pandemic, the Coronavirus Aid Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act designated a a significant amount of money to the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER). Tennessee received $4.2 billion to be spent on schools across the state.

These funds created positions in the school according to Bolton. He said that while there was not a significant increase in certified positions from before the pandemic until now, there was an increase in classified positions from before the impact and through the ESSER Funds.

Additionally, teacher vacancies include interim positions for teachers that will be on a leave of absence during the school year. These vacancies are for as far out as November.

The teacher shortage was not unexpected by the school district, Bolton explained. He paraphrased a Tennessee Department of Education Report, which found that “On average, there’s about 700 less teachers produced in the state of Tennessee than was produced in 2015.” This factor, paired with the continued population growth of the state, made the teacher shortage more expected.

To position the school system for this, multiple steps were taken. Bolton said that they increased the scope of where they were looking for teachers. During the pandemic, teacher fairs were moved entirely online. From this, teachers from as far as California, Washington state, and Alaska were hired for the KCS school system.

The school district also worked with the state board of education to adopt and change the process for out of state licensure. Before, teachers from out of state would be required to take the Praxis exam and follow through some other initial licensure steps for the state of Tennessee. This made the process more difficult for teachers to obtain out of state license, especially given that some neighboring states don’t require the Praxis exam for initial licensure Bolton said.

There was also an expanded partnership with KCS’s primary educator preparation programs partnerships. These include University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and Carson Newman University. This included a three phase initiative to create teachers in the school district. The district has already worked with teaching assistants who may have had a 4-year degree to help them become “teachers of record.” It also worked with Interns through University of Tennessee, Knoxville, to allow them to complete their internships through the university while receiving a livable wage. The final phase, Bolton explained, works on the pipeline of students who may become future teachers.

KCS has also worked to make the system more competitive to attract new teachers. Bolton said that there has been a focus on elevated compensations in the last several budget sessions. In addition to offering competitive pay, KCS also offers benefits to compete with other industries. Bolton also mentioned that the school system offers opportunities for advancement that are less frequently found at other schools. Commonly, the only option for advancement is for teachers to join administration. At KCS, higher compensation is available for department heads, lead teachers, instructional coaches, and for being at certain schools.