By Teo Armus
Faced with a drastic shortage of teachers, one West Texas school district may join a small but growing group of Texas communities settling for hiring some only available via screens.
The Ector County school board, which oversees Odessa and its western suburbs, will consider a proposal Tuesday to contract with “virtual teachers” through an Austin-based company, Proximity Learning, in order to fill some of its 240 vacant teaching positions.
“We’ll look at any opportunity to fill those vacancies, and this is potentially a way to have certified teachers in front of our kids every day,” said Michael Adkins, a spokesperson for the district.
As the oil boom has caused the cost of housing to soar in the area while simultaneously luring teachers away to high-paying energy jobs, open teaching slots have only increased, Adkins said.
About two dozen other school districts use virtual teachers through Proximity. Under a current proposal, Ector County would pay nearly $1 million in order for teachers to offer live lessons projected onto classroom screens or transmitted to individual devices for a wider variety of courses including astronomy, Algebra 2 and English 4.
For Ector’s interim superintendent, Jim Nelson, virtual teachers may be the solution for recruiting and retaining enough teachers in expensive or rural parts of the state.