While the total number of emergency certified teachers across Carter County has risen by one this school year, most school systems in the county are actually seeing a drop in the number of those certifications needed to meet staffing requirements. According to numbers from each of the nine public school districts in Carter County, only two of those districts have seen an increase in the number of teachers certified under emergency provisions.
Emergency certifications, in some form or fashion, have been available to school districts in Oklahoma for at least a decade. Despite recent efforts by the Oklahoma Legislature to attract new teachers, including a $1,200 pay raise in July for teachers statewide, school districts continue to struggle with a shrinking pool of candidates in their searches for qualified teachers.
During the 2018-2019 school year, all public school systems in Carter County employed a total of 50 teachers with emergency certification. Of the 652 teachers employed by those public school systems this school year, 51 of them, or 7.8%, have emergency certification.
State law provides school systems with the ability to hire a teacher for two years under the emergency certification rules. Guidance offered to school administrators by the Oklahoma State Board of Education says that all efforts to hire someone with the proper certification must be exhausted and documented before an emergency certification is considered.
According to information from the State Department of Education on Friday, 2,797 emergency certifications were approved statewide for the current school year, with 36% of those as renewals.

FILLING THE GAPS
With one of the smallest teacher populations in Carter County, Springer Public Schools also has the highest percentage of emergency certified teachers in the county. Superintendent Cynthia Hunter said four of her district’s 25 teachers, or 16%, are currently employed with emergency certifications. She also warns that the numbers alone may not tell the full story of how staffing is handled by the Cardinals.
“We have to be careful not to be discouraged by percentages and examine the true numbers due to the small number of total teachers at Springer,” Hunter said in an email. “One or two additional teachers can create a significant increase or decrease in percentage depending on the criteria being measured.”
The small number of teachers can indeed skew perceptions of the staffing situation if not put into context. For example, Hunter said two of the emergency certifications this year were issued to certified school counselors due to a lack of applicants for elementary education openings. A third teacher actually has a traditional teaching certification but needed an emergency certification to teach outside of their field.
“The last emergency-certified teacher we hired was due to a late opening where none of the eight applicants available for the position had a traditional Oklahoma teaching certificate,” Hunter said. “The teacher we hired had a bachelor’s degree in the teaching field and prior teaching experience.”
The situation in Springer is a prime example of the problem many school systems across the state have faced for years. According to the 2018 Teacher Supply and Demand report from the SDOE, the most recent available, the percentage of teachers leaving the field has increased since 2012. As a result, there has been an overall downward trend in the supply of new teachers.
While the supply of Oklahoma teachers falls, the number of Oklahoma students rises. The report shows statewide enrollment numbers continued to rise between 2012 and 2018, albeit at a slowing rate.

A TEMPORARY FIX
The staffing situation faced by the county’s largest school system can further explain how emergency certifications work. Ardmore City Schools employs 173 traditionally certified teachers and 32 emergency-certified teachers, according to numbers from school administrators. Ten of those teachers are in their second year under emergency provisions, while 22 are in their first year.
Guidance issued by the SDOE to school administrators makes clear that emergency certification will not be issued to anyone who has already held that type of certification for two years. For the 10 emergency-certified teachers at Ardmore City Schools who are in their second year under the provisions, they must complete their certifications under traditional rules in order to keep teaching in Oklahoma.
That same guidance also says emergency certification is not available for special education teachers or anyone applying who has not passed a criminal background check.

VARYING NEEDS BETWEEN DISTRICTS
While school systems in Springer and Ardmore have seen the number of emergency-certified teachers jump this year, the remaining seven public school systems in Carter County are seeing those numbers holding steady or declining. Wilson Public Schools had five teachers certified under emergency provisions last year, according to Oklahoma Watch, but administrators say only three emergency-certified teachers are there this year.
Only one teacher in the Lone Grove Public School system has emergency certification, three fewer than last year. “She has two years to complete her requirements for certification,” superintendent Meri Jayne Miller said of the lone teacher with emergency certification.
Dickson Public Schools also has fewer teachers with emergency certifications this year. Seven educators there are teaching under emergency provisions, three fewer than last school year. Plainview Public Schools currently has four teachers with emergency certifications. That number has held steady since last year.
Zaneis Public Schools employs the smallest number of teachers in Carter County, with 17 certified teachers in two schools. One teacher last year was placed in a position under emergency certification, but staff said that teacher had completed certification before the end of the year. None of the teachers at Zaneis Public Schools currently hold an emergency certification.
Healdton Public Schools superintendent Terry Shaw said that all of his system’s 38 teachers have normal certifications. “I’ve been here for eight years and we’ve never had to hire anyone with emergency certification,” he said on Thursday.
Fox Public Schools, with 21 certified teachers and administrators, also has one of the smallest teacher populations in Carter County. Superintendent Brent Phelps says none of the teachers at Fox are working with the emergency certification this year.

EVOLVING PROVISIONS
Dr. Robyn Miller, deputy superintendent of school support and accountability for OSDE, says the goal is to reduce the need for emergency certifications by 95% within five years.
“One such communication effort is the search tool on the OSDE website, teacher certification page,” Dr. Miller said in an email late Friday. “Another upcoming tool is the ability for districts to identify a need and for certified teachers to identify their availability and make the two make a connection for possible hiring,” she said.
However, rules from the SDOE that went into effect in July have further opened who can be emergency certified. “Applications for an individual who will teach in the grade range of pre-kindergarten through third grade, and who does not have a relevant degree or relevant work experience, may be recommended for approval to the State Board,” the guidance says.
If approved under the most recent provision, those applicants have until Nov. 15 to complete approved training to extend their emergency certification through June 2020. If training is not completed, the emergency certification may expire at the end of 2019. Emergency-certified teachers under these new provisions and a representative from the school district will have to petition the Oklahoma State Board of Education in person — regardless if the November training is completed — if they want to continue teaching through the end of the school year.
New rules that will further loosen requirements pertaining to emergency-certified pre-kindergarten through fifth grade teachers will also go into effect in July 2020. Under those future provisions, applicants must meet at least one of four criteria: academic major in a field closely related to education; academic minor in a field closely related to education and 6 months of relevant work experience; successful completion of a relevant Oklahoma Subject area test; and/or one year of closely related work experience.
In Lone Grove,  Miller has said that her district is using monetary and non-monetary benefits to recruit and retain certified teachers. Back in Springer, Hunter says her district is also working to entice qualified teachers to work there by offering stipends and pay rates slightly higher than state minimums. She said the ways to meet the need for talented educators are limited but not unavailable.
“We are doing all we can to ensure the best people available are in classrooms working with our students,” she said. “Occasionally, that means we get creative with online curriculum, shared teachers, and other means to meet the needs of our students.”