Fairfax Co. teacher resident program helping school system overcome staffing shortage

When a friend she exercises with informed her of an open teaching position at Fairview Elementary, Catherine Coulter’s long-term goal became a reality.

Coulter, a graduate Fairfax County Public Schools in Virginia, said she dreamed of eventually working in the county that gave her opportunities to be in band, chorus and the business organization DECA. So, when her friend offered to connect Coulter with Samantha Goldstein, principal of the Burke elementary school, she didn’t hesitate.

Now, Coulter is entering her first year teaching in Virginia’s largest school system as a teaching resident, a newly-created position aimed at placing qualified teachers in classrooms while they take the final steps toward receiving a specific certification. The county’s human resources department spearheaded the initiative.

For Coulter, that means becoming certified in elementary education while she teaches at Fairview Elementary.

Coulter is already certified in middle school education and has out-of-state teaching experience.

The new program could help the county fill remaining vacancies before the school year begins Aug. 22, and is one of many ways D.C. area jurisdictions are working to address staffing shortages.

Superintendent Michelle Reid previously said in a message to families at the end of July that the county had 97% of positions filled. Goldstein said with the addition of Coulter and another teaching resident, Fairview’s classroom positions are now fully staffed.

“Had we not been able to fill (the two) positions, then potentially those positions would have been left unfilled, filled by substitutes or other FCPS professionals coming out of different roles to fill those classroom positions,” Goldstein said.

Coulter, who graduated from Lake Braddock Secondary School in 2012, said the opportunity was appealing because she can provide students with impactful learning experiences inside and outside of the classroom. A Virginia Tech graduate, she hadn’t always planned on becoming a teacher, but enjoyed teaching in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, as part of Teach for America. She most recently taught in D.C.

“I want to continue to serve kids in our community,” Coulter said. “Even though we are working through some really challenging times, it is still important for me to show up every day, to bring my experience, bring my knowledge, to bring my love of teaching to them.”

The county’s teaching residents are paid about $48,000 annually, according to a job posting, and program participants are eligible to receive benefits.

Goldstein said the alternative to the program would be hiring teachers like Coulter to fill long-term substitute jobs, which don’t come with benefits.

“We have this national teacher shortage crisis and really needed to find some unique ways to bridge that gap for individuals who had been educated and maybe taught in different states or had different experiences working with children coming into Virginia,” Goldstein said, “and kind of building that gap of how can we bring them into FCPS with the background knowledge that they have?”

While there typically are teaching vacancies across the county, Goldstein said, “it wasn’t like what we’re experiencing in this current moment.”

A school system spokeswoman said a few hundred people attended a virtual information session about the program earlier this week. A teacher resident hiring event is planned from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. Thursday.

Earlier this week, Montgomery County Public Schools superintendent Monifa McKnight said Maryland’s largest school system is 98% staffed but working to fill hundreds of vacant and full-time positions for teachers, support workers and bus drivers.

School officials in Loudoun County told the school board Tuesday night that the county is nearly 98% staffed.

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Scott Gelman

Scott Gelman is a digital editor and writer for WTOP. A South Florida native, Scott graduated from the University of Maryland in 2019. During his time in College Park, he worked for The Diamondback, the school’s student newspaper.

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