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Inside DeJean Middle School's auditorium with a shiny black, white and pink striped linoleum floor and white tables lined up in four rows, each with four to five tables

Few teacher candidates among job-seekers at WCCUSD recruitment event

on November 5, 2023

Helms Middle School Principal Priya Sembi went to Saturday’s West Contra Costa Unified School District job fair hoping to fill at least some of the five teacher vacancies at her school.

The crowd, however, was sparse at DeJean Middle School, reducing her chances. 

“I’ve been to three of these since August, and I haven’t talked to any teacher candidates,” said Sembi, sitting behind a table draped in black cloth with the image of a roaring cougar. 

Helms started the school year with the five vacancies. Sembi has filled them with long-term substitute teachers or the quick fix of period-subbing, where other teachers fill in for periods here and there.

However, some situations have called for more drastic measures. Sembi said she and Assistant Vice Principal Jerri Bedwell often teach up to four classes at once using the school’s cafeteria as a large classroom.

Sembi said there are many barriers to entry for teacher hopefuls, and that officials need to find ways to remove some for potential applicants. More importantly, she said, schools have to do more to inspire students to someday become teachers.

“We really have to figure out how to get people to buy into teaching at our public schools,” Sembi said.

Outside a red and white tiled school building with the glass doors open, is a white placard sign that says in blue letters: WCCUS JOB FAIR and and arrow pointing to the doors.
(Wayne Gray photos)

According to the WCCUSD website, the district has 883 job vacancies for both certificated and classified staff, including 75 teacher vacancies.

Camille Johnson, interim associate superintendent of Human Resources, having previously worked as an education consultant for various school districts, said the staffing issues WCCUSD is experiencing are the same nationwide.

Filling these positions poses a challenge to administrators as well as teachers, with pay and working conditions being a primary concern.

Earlier this year, United Teachers of Richmond and the district reached a new deal, raising teacher salaries 14.5% over two years. However, teachers are carrying higher workloads because of vacant positions.

Johnson said attendance for the recruitment event was lower than others in the past few months, but that she hopes to see more applicants during job fairs early next year.

Lizbeth Mazariegos, a district Human Resources technician, said while the school year is well underway, they don’t get many applicants for certificated teaching positions. Most of the job-seekers  were interested in classified positions such as administrative, maintenance and paraprofessional.

Leading up to the event, attendees were encouraged to include their resume with an online interest form made available on the district’s homepage. 

During the job fair, Human Resources technicians conducted preliminary interviews, administered skills tests and provided job information. Laptops were provided for applicants to apply through EDJOIN, a job search tool.

Sarah Drouillard is currently working as a store manager, but hopes to be an instructional aide with the district. 

“I grew up in West Contra Costa, and I know how in desperate need they are,” Drouillard said.

The district adult education program was recruiting at the event as well. The program offers fee-based and free classes in such subjects as English as a second language, career technical education and citizenship.

Laura Talley said the program is often the first step for many applicants, so they can meet the minimum requirements to apply for other positions within the district or elsewhere.

“If we get five to 10 people, we are happy,” said Talley, a district Human Resources technician for adult education. 

Johnson said events like the community job fair are just as much for district employees as they are for the community. She hopes to see more district employees apply for other positions within the district as they gain experience.

Alexander Alba, a paraprofessional, came to the event looking for an accounting or administrative job, after working in the district for three years. 

“I feel like I’m at a point where I’ve done enough, so I need a new challenge,” Alba said.

According to a Human Resources staffing update presented to the school board in August, the district’s recruitment strategy calls for job fairs to be held throughout the school year.

Classroom vacancies force WCCUSD teachers into period-subbing, risking burnout

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