About 500 retired Virginia schoolteachers have gotten a letter from Gov. Terry McAuliffe asking them to think about going back to work as a teacher in Petersburg.
In a letter sent last week, McAuliffe wrote that Petersburg City Schools is facing high turnover and shortages in its teaching ranks. The district, he wrote, currently has 22 vacancies.
“With this in mind, I am writing to ask you to consider returning to the classroom, specifically in Petersburg,” the governor wrote.
“The students and schools of Petersburg need exactly the kind of experience and expertise you have to offer as a veteran teacher.”
A similar letter will go out looking for teachers in Richmond sometime next year.
The letter itself was not addressed specifically to former Petersburg teachers. It was sent to teachers who worked in districts across the state but now live in localities near the city, including Chesterfield County.
In asking these retired teachers to return to the classroom, McAuliffe points to a state law that allows teachers who return to help out in areas where there is a critical shortage to receive a new salary and continue collecting their pension.
The law, first approved in 2001, is meant to give incentive to teachers who have experience to return to the classroom, said Eric Steigleder, spokesman for Virginia’s secretary of education, Dietra Trent.
“This was an innovative approach to deal with an issue that we’re all facing across the nation. It’s also a good opportunity to bring that kind of experienced veteran back into the classroom,” Steigleder said.
That McAuliffe chose to help Petersburg find teachers is no surprise.
A major program to grow out of his Children’s Cabinet, created in 2014, is the Challenged Schools Initiative, which looks to address issues in the Petersburg, Richmond and Norfolk school districts.
The initiative has helped Petersburg show signs of improvement, with the graduation rate rising 10 percentage points to 85.5 percent last year and two of its six schools getting full accreditation.
But one of the main stumbling blocks affecting Richmond and Petersburg schools as they work to turn themselves around is a persistent problem attracting and retaining teachers. While many districts across the country face teacher shortages, urban school systems also must deal with keeping teachers who can move to more affluent suburban areas where the pay and working conditions tend to be better.
By getting some veteran teachers to these school districts, the state not only helps fill vacancies but also brings years of hard-earned knowledge into the classroom. That benefits students, as well as younger teachers who need mentors.
“These people are people who have worked as teachers for an extended period of time,” Steigleder said. “They know what it’s like. They know the ups and downs. And they are the kind of people with the kind of experience we need in the classroom.”