Stamford schools had 9 new positions. Amid national teacher shortage, they’ve been unable to hire even 1.

Stamford High School along Strawberry Hill Ave in Stamford, Conn., on Wednesday July 13, 2022.

Stamford High School along Strawberry Hill Ave in Stamford, Conn., on Wednesday July 13, 2022.

Christian Abraham / Hearst Connecticut Media file photo

STAMFORD — Stamford schools budgeted for nine new curriculum-focused positions for the fall, but with just a few weeks before school begins, they haven’t been able to hire for a single one.

The ongoing teacher shortage is to blame, said Amy Beldotti, associate superintendent for teaching and learning.

Beldotti proposed an alternative solution during a meeting of the Stamford Board of Education’s Teaching, Learning, and Community Committee earlier this week.

She suggested creating a collection of teacher-led committees, each focused on a specific content area, to do the work instead.

Initially, Superintendent Tamu Lucero’s budget request for the 2022-23 school year included 83 new positions, including nine jobs titled “teacher on special assignment,” or TOSA, for a cost of $945,555. Each position was going to focus on developing, implementing and reviewing curriculum in a specific content area such as English, math, science or social studies.

But Beldotti said many of the TOSA job openings received only one application while some garnered no responses. Of the applications the district did receive, some didn’t even warrant an interview, she said.

“We’ve hit some challenges, which I’m sure are not surprising to the board,” she said, during the meeting.

Beldotti said the district has struggled to hire teachers across the board and is short on educators in many content areas. That’s why using current Stamford teachers to fill the TOSA roles was a non-starter.

“As we head into the opening of school in just a couple of weeks, the idea of pulling a teacher out of a classroom to work in central office supporting curriculum just seemed counter intuitive,” she said. “We want our teachers to be in the classrooms working with our students.”

Instead, she proposed creating committees of four to six teachers each to do the work instead, and paying them for the hours they put into the role. Committees will be focused on different subjects in middle and high schools. Larger committees for art, music, physical education and health for the entire K-12 school system were also mentioned by Beldotti.

In an emailed message, Beldotti specified that the district is looking for about 80 teachers to fill the committees, and each would be asked to dedicate roughly five hours a month to the job.

“We recognize that our teachers know what they need and we need to build their capacity to be able to address their own needs in their classrooms,” Beldotti said.

Eventually, the committee work could lead to certain teachers taking on one of the TOSA roles in the future if they are to be brought back.

Beldotti said the cost of the committee system would be roughly $475,000, and would include professional development delivered by the teachers. Compared with the original TOSA idea, the committee approach will save the district roughly $470,000.

Board president Jackie Heftman called the idea a “tremendous step forward” given the hiring challenges the district faces.

“I think that this is a very, very creative way to minimize the impact on the classroom while at the same time empowering teachers to use their expertise and work together,” she said. “This is what I think teachers have been asking us to do for a long time. This is a bottom-up rather than top-down approach. I personally think it’s a better model than the TOSA model.”

Beldotti said she and recently appointed associate superintendent of school development Lori Rhodes would put together job descriptions and post them shortly.

“We feel that if we can post these positions and build these small committees of work, we can continue the curriculum work that we have started,” she said.

ignacio.laguarda@stamfordadvocate.com