Teacher shortage is being solved by this retiring superintendent

Florida's Hernando County School District has launched an on-the-job bachelor's degree program for aspiring educators.

The Hernando County School District is tackling the teacher shortage innovatively: the system, led by Superintendent John Stratton, has launched an on-the-job bachelor’s degree program for aspiring educators.

Teacher shortage
John Stratton

Stratton, who is retiring from the Florida district at the end of the school year, has already filled 34 vacancies in the first year of the Associate Teacher Program, which has been particularly attractive to Hernando’s employees and community members changing careers. Another sign of recruitment and retention success is a waiting list of more than 100 candidates eager to hop on the district-funded pathway to teacher certification.

Students in the program, which is powered by BloomBoard and degrees from Lake Erie College, become associate teacher substitutes employed by the district. They work full-time in classrooms and are invested in the district’s retirement system. Teachers must agree to spend four years in Hernando County after earning their degrees, which are fully covered by the district. Stratton points out that after five years in the same district, teachers are far more likely to stay in their jobs long-term—even until retirement.

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“The impact has been incredible,” says Stratton, who has been Hernando’s superintendent since 2018. “We can be rather selective in our interview process and make sure that they’re committed because they’re going to have to take on not just being a teacher but also completing the coursework required to obtain their bachelor’s.”

Instruction is portfolio-based. The aspiring teachers submit lesson plans, student work and videos of themselves at work with students, among other evidence. Another critical element of the program is direct and consistent mentorship, which lasts from when participants first enter the program until they complete the certification process, Stratton points out.

“We try to put the mentor as close as possible to the associate teacher,” he adds. “The key is making sure they don’t feel isolated and out there by themselves. Being a new teacher, in any capacity, can be very intimidating.”

The upshot is that people do want to work in education. The waiting list for the bachelor’s program has been built solely by word-of-mouth and school board presentations. There has been no advertising. Looking ahead, the district will be working to expand the program to associate’s degrees to head off teacher shortages further.

“There are people in our community that love the idea, or at least the thought of ‘Hey, I might like teaching,’ and that’s who we seem to be attracting right now,” he points out. “We have to make sure on our end that we’re in there helping them become the best teachers they can be.”

Superintendent reflects—and looks ahead

As Stratton approaches retirement after 32 years in education, he notes how his and his team’s efforts to overcome teacher shortages reflect how K12 is changing—and how schools compete with the private sector for employees. Hernando County passed a tax increase to raise employee salaries and now allows employees to work from home when possible.

“My No. 1 thing is you treat people well,” he notes. “Then they want to be a part of something they feel respected for, no matter at which level they serve.”

One of the biggest challenges his successors will face is the politicization of public education. Superintendents must continue supporting staff and students while complying with new state laws. “There are different agendas out there and sadly it’s pulled us away from being focused on student achievement,” he concludes. “I would like to see us get back to talking about student achievement and focusing on how to improve this profession for all.”

Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick is the managing editor of District Administration and a life-long journalist. Prior to writing for District Administration he worked in daily news all over the country, from the NYC suburbs to the Rocky Mountains, Silicon Valley and the U.S. Virgin Islands. He's also in a band.

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