Arizona school districts filling more vacant teacher positions as new school year begins

It’s back to school for students, and for the 2023-2024 school year, it appears many school districts in the Phoenix area are also welcoming more new teachers to the classroom.

While Arizona is still facing a severe teacher shortage, officials with some school districts in the Phoenix area say for the first time in years, the trend is finally starting to shift.

Cartwright School District

At Cartwright School District, they were short 28 teachers during the summer of 2022. Fast-forward a year, they are only short three teachers. Principals say the district’s four-day student and staff week has been a big draw for new hires.

"They were transitioning to a four-day work week, including teachers, and that really drew me in. I've never had an opportunity like that before," said kindergarten teacher Courtney Schultz. "Honestly, the biggest thing for me is to be able to rejuvenate, be able to catch up on school work, be able to get the rest that I need, and come back on Monday and be prepared for everything."

The school district launched its four-day school week in 2022, and starting this school year, staff members will also get Fridays off.

"I think it gives a leverage and a playing field that you don't have in all other school districts, potentially," said Dr. Joy Weiss, the principal of the Bret R. Tarver Leadership Academy.

Mesa Public Schools

In Mesa, which has the largest school district in Arizona, there are just over 60 vacant teaching positions in the days leading up to the new school year. In 2022, there were more than 100 vacancies. For 2021, that number was higher than 200.

"As of last week, we had all of our K-6 positions all filled," said Justin Wing with Mesa Public Schools. "We had our core subject areas of math, English, science all filled."

Deer Valley Unified School District

At Deer Valley Unified, just 3% of their teaching positions remain vacant. Many district officials say programs that allow professionals with a bachelor’s degree to quickly earn a teaching certification have helped fill vacancies.

"In total, we have 68 teachers in the teacher prep program in Deer Valley," said Stefanie Ewbank with Deer Valley Unified School District.

The district’s teacher prep program is free, and many of those in the program are people who want to change careers, and just don’t have the money or time to go back to college to get a teacher certification. At the end of our program, those taking part in it will get a classroom-based certification That is only good within the State of Arizona.

According to officials with the Arizona School Personnel Administrators Associations, there are more than 2,800 vacant teaching positions across Arizona.