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Houston-area school districts are scrambling to fill job openings ahead of the new semester

Teachers, bus drivers, custodians, nutrition workers and others are needed.

HOUSTON, Texas — It looks like it will be another challenging school year, but Takedra Harris-Simmons is up for the job.

“I always wanted to be a teacher,” she said. “I will be teaching 8th grade English language arts.”

Harris-Simmons will be working for Goose Creek CISD. She participated in a recent job fair hosted by Teachers of Tomorrow.

It's Texas’ largest alternative certification program.

"The demand is massive,” Teachers of Tomorrow executive Jay Hutchinson said.

Districts across the Houston area set up shop to recruit qualified teachers.

"Typically we have about 700 people attend from our candidate pool,"  Hutchinson said. "And about a fourth of them will get jobs on the spot.”

Principal Chris McCurry helped convince candidates to join rapidly-growing Cleveland ISD.

"It’s hard to say exactly the reason why," McCurry said. "But, in my experience, in my previous school district, we haven’t had this number of vacancies this late into the summer.”

Why the shortage

Some attribute the elevated need to early retirements or even educators leaving the profession amid the pandemic.

"Of course we can use substitute teachers," said McCurry. "But, ultimately, we’re going to look to fill these positions as quickly as possible.”

Pay raises and bonuses 

Many districts approved pay raises or stipends over the summer to help attract and retain teacher, but the employment need goes well beyond school buildings.

Getting kids to and from school requires some 900 bus drivers in Houston ISD alone.

"We’re always, constantly looking for great bus drivers,” HISD recruiter Javon May said.

May said one challenge is that drivers require a commercial license, or CDL. That's something many districts help them get but it takes time.

“I put it above everything in the school district, in terms of the difficulty to recruit,” May said.

Recruiting custodial staff will last through the rest of this year for HISD.

It’s moving hundreds of positions in-house at a time when their skills are invaluable as most schools return to 100% in-person learning.

Harris-Simmons said she can only hope for the best as her career begins.

“Whatever comes, I’m willing to put the work in and do as best as I can,” she said.

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Also watch: Most Texas schools are maskless and in-person