A little less than a week from the start of the school year Wednesday, the public school systems in Escambia and Santa Rosa counties were still searching for more teachers.
The school system in Escambia County — which recently announced a name change to Escambia County Public Schools — still had 59 vacant teacher positions that district officials had hoped to fill over the summer.
The Santa Rosa County school district still had upward of 100 unfilled teacher and support positions.
School board elections hearting up: Young challenger takes on chairman for Escambia County School Board District 1 seat
However, administrators from both districts said there was no need for parents to panic, assuring them that schools would open as normal.
"We can roll with what we've got," said Kelly Krostag, director of human resources for Escambia County Public Schools.
District leaders noted they've made adjustments to ensure students will receive the resources they need this year. For example, class sizes at certain schools in both counties will have to be increased to meet demand.
Despite lingering needs, there have also been successes. A massive recruiting effort netted Escambia County Public Schools more than 300 new teachers over the summer months.
"We still need 59 classroom teacher units, but we have 2,700 teachers in the district. So, overall, we feel pretty good about that," Krostag said Aug. 3. "We also hired 10 yesterday. So, we feel like we are going to be ready for the opening of school. We're going to be a little short, but we're going to manage."
The Escambia County district will utilize personnel it categorizes as "full-time substitutes" to fill in while it continues to search for additional full-time, permanent recruits.
"We have people that have committed to us over the years to be full-time substitutes," Krostag said. "They all have four-year degrees. So, they come in and help us out. They're just not interested in full-time teaching positions, but they'll help us out."
The district also plans to move around some of its staff to fill gaps where needed, Krostag said. If one school has a low enrollment, then some of its teaching staff may be moved to schools with a greater need for instructors.
Many of the 300 teachers who were recruited to Escambia County schools this summer are recent graduates. The young teachers are coming from schools including the University of Alabama, the University of Mississippi, the University of South Alabama, Troy University, Jackson State University, Jacksonville State and Florida State University.
"I find that we do really well when we leave Florida," Krostag said. "Since we're right here on the Alabama line, it's nice for them be able to get home for the weekend. But of course, our biggest recruiting area here is (the University of West Florida). We did in the double digits there."
The out-of-state college at which Escambia County Public Schools recruiters found the most success this year was the University of Southern Mississippi.
Santa Rosa County fills over 200 positions
The Santa Rosa County school district also made hundreds of new hires over the summer, but like its neighbor is still searching for more teachers to recruit.
"We haven't filled all of our jobs at this point, but we have filled a little over 200," said Liz West, Santa Rosa County District Schools' assistant superintendent of human resources. "We've hired all that we possibly can at this point."
West said the district is still looking for 75 to 100 more teachers for the upcoming school year.
"At this point, we have all of our classrooms covered expect for a couple of our ESE positions that we're still working on," West said. "But we still have some other ancillary teachers that we're in search of."
Examples of "ancillary teachers" would be school psychologists, guidance counselors, social workers and exceptional student education liaisons.
"In some schools, class sizes will be a little bit bigger. In some situations, we've taken some of our teachers who would be doing different jobs and moved them into classrooms to make sure that we have teachers in those classrooms on the first day," West said. "Specifically, we've had some grant positions where teachers were intervention teachers and they have moved into classrooms."
School districts across Florida are experiencing similar staffing shortages. Last month, in an effort to help the fill vacancies, the Florida Department of Education announced a new statewide policy allowing U.S. military veterans to teach without a bachelor's degree.
The temporary policy went into effect July 1 and will remain active for the next five years. Neither the Escambia nor Santa Rosa public school systems had hired a veteran without a college degree as of last week, officials said.
Colin Warren-Hicks can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 850-435-8680.
This article originally appeared on Pensacola News Journal: Escambia, Santa Rosa schools still need dozens of teachers for the year