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Catholic Vancouver Sept. 18, 2018

B.C. teacher shortage hit independent rural schools hardest  

By Agnieszka Ruck

Independent schools have been scrambling to find teachers for the 2018-2019 school year, hiring candidates from as far as Ireland. (BCC file photo)

A 2016 court ruling that sent public schools into a recruiting blitz is still affecting schools across the province.

The decision two years ago granted the B.C. Teachers’ Federation the right to limit class size, leaving public schools suddenly looking to hire an estimated 3,500 new teachers. The pool of available local teachers vastly diminished during the process, sending independent schools scrambling to fill vacancies, too.

“Independent schools in rural areas really struggled,” said Shawn Chisholm, the director of the Federation of Independent School Associations in B.C.

FISA oversees more than 300 independent schools, including 79 Catholic schools, various faith-based institutions, college preparatory programs, and others across B.C.

Chisholm said teacher-on-call lists were “decimated last year” as independent schools hired on-call teachers to full-time work. They also pulled teachers out of retirement and recruited educators from across the country and as far away as Ireland and Australia.

Then they faced additional hurdles: teachers from outside B.C. had to apply for certification, and the hiring blitz had created a backlog. Where the waiting period for certification (including education and criminal record checks) used to be about three weeks, it was now six to eight weeks.

In the last two weeks of August, a FISA survey found at least 147 teaching positions in its member schools still needed teachers or were waiting for certification.

“They worked really hard, and I felt for so many of these independent schools,” said Chisholm. Some superintendents and principals worked all summer trying to fill job openings.

“They were posting for these positions back in April, and some schools had indicated they didn’t even have one applicant.”

Rural schools, like those in the Catholic dioceses of Prince George and Nelson, were among those hit hardest. Chris Dugdale, the superintendent of Catholic Independent Schools of Prince George, said his schools had to fill 39 teaching positions in time for the fall, 15 more than usual.

He said they were successful, but not without going to career fairs across Canada, advertising with Google and Facebook, and publishing announcements in church bulletins.

Catholic Independent Schools of the Vancouver Archdiocese also had to recruit far and wide to fill their open spaces.

Associate superintendent Lesya Balsevich said public schools often have the resources to “sweeten the deal” for teachers looking for work.

At the start of the summer, when CISVA usually has teachers lined up for the following school year, Balsevich was still staring at 40 openings. Between last fall and this August, her staff had held a record 100 interviews.

Yet, thanks to holding career fairs in Ontario, hiring recently retired teachers, and even pulling in a handful of educators from Ireland, they managed to fill every space just in time.

“As of opening day, every single classroom had a teacher,” she said. CISVA even opened a new school in White Rock Sept. 5.

CISVA has just released a promotional video about Catholic schools, hoping a pro-active effort to encourage teachers and young people to consider faith-based education will do a lot to ensure they have many dedicated teachers in the future.

“I am praying for these schools,” said Chisholm. “I’m hoping we graduate lots of excellent teachers in B.C. and many of them will want to be working in independent schools because they are a great place to work.”