RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Richmond Public Schools are facing a critical teacher shortage six weeks before the start of the school year.

According to the RPS School Board, 552 out of 2,156 teachers resigned from the district at the end of the 2021-2022 school year. Currently, the district is still facing 176 vacancies.

8News spoke with Tomorrow Loften-Pickens, an RPS special education teacher, who believes the COVID-19 pandemic, along with extensive work hours, are leading to the resignations. She added that teachers may not feel valued and heard in their classrooms.

“It’s a lack of respect,” she said. “Sometimes, leadership thinks they know what’s best for what’s in the classroom, but teachers actually in the classroom often aren’t heard or respected, and those ideas are passed over.”

Of the 176 vacant spots, 63 are from elementary and preschools, 65 are from middle schools and 48 are from high schools.

District leaders admit that the past year was “extremely stressful and exhausting” for teachers. In a presentation, they attributed the spike in resignations to the record number of absences and loss of planning time.

“The trauma experienced by students during the pandemic created an even more challenging teaching environment,” the district said. “Many teachers fell ill themselves and experienced significant mental health challenges throughout the year. Tragically, this has been a trend across the country.”

On Friday night, the RPS school board motioned to offer a $10,000 bonus for new teachers: $6,000 to help them move and $4,000 if they fill a critical shortage area such as English, health and physical education, or library media.

While she applauded the recruitment efforts, Loften-Pickens said that the school district should also be focusing on retaining the teachers who have continued to teach throughout the pandemic and during the teacher shortage.

“We work so hard and, financially, I have challenges and I know I’m not the only one,” Loften-Pickens said. “We’re not compensated for covering classes or working on the weekend.”

She added, “What is this saying about the teachers who are staying? What about the teachers who stayed and showed some buy-in to their districts?”  

In the fall of 2020, RPS had 9 vacancies and in the fall of 2021, there were 83, according to school documents.

RPS stated that there has been high turnover in some schools, causing higher vacancies than usual:

  • River City Middle School – 31
  • Miles Jones Elementary School – 23
  • Carver Elementary School – 22
  • Boushall Middle School – 21
  • Henderson Middle School – 21
  • Martin Luther King, Jr. Middle School – 17
  • George Wythe High School – 17
  • Oak Grove Elementary School – 16

Eleven out of 41 RPS schools have more than five vacancies, including in five out of all seven middle schools.

RPS Superintendent Jason Kamras is presenting this information to the school board at a meeting on July 18 at 6 p.m.