Montclair Mayor Sean Spiller was appointed earlier this month to the Task Force on Public School Staff Shortages in New Jersey, a group created by Gov. Phil Murphy to provide recommendations to address teacher shortages across the state. 

Spiller is also president of the New Jersey Education Association, the statewide teachers union that represents more than 200,000 members, according to the association’s website. He has served in the role since Sept. 1, 2021.

More than two thirds of public schools reported that too few candidates were applying for open positions at their schools, and 53% reported feeling that they are understaffed entering the 2022–23 school year, according to a Sept. 27 U.S. Education Department press release. The data were collected from 900 schools between Aug. 9 and 23, 2022.

And for the 2021-2022 school year, New Jersey reported teacher shortages in special education to the U.S. Department of Education, alongside shortages in career and technical education, English as a Second Language, math, science and world languages.  

Spiller is one of 25 members of the task force — which includes school administrators and staff members, school board representatives and union leaders — charged with providing initial recommendations to Murphy by Jan. 31, according to a Dec. 8 press release from the governor’s office. The group will be chaired by Dennis Zeveloff, Murphy’s chief policy adviser.

“I was honored to be appointed to sit on the task force by the governor to represent the NJEA along with three other NJEA educators who bring vast and diverse experience to the table,” Spiller said in an email, adding that the task force has begun meeting. 

He said that when he visits schools across the state the topic of teacher shortages comes up with school administrators and NJEA members.  

“We appreciate the governor's sense of urgency in requesting initial recommendations by the end of January – so there will be much more forthcoming,” Spiller said. 

In his Dec. 8 press release, Murphy said: “As we emerge from the pandemic, we must recognize the impact that teacher shortages in our state and across the nation will have on our economy, the arts, and our civil society. My administration remains steadfast in our commitment to identifying solutions to address this shortage and I am confident that this task force will offer the unique perspectives and experience that this moment requires.”

In September, Murphy announced the state would no longer require the educative Teacher Performance Assessment, an effort to alleviate the shortage. 

"We commend Governor Murphy for recognizing the need for innovative solutions and a dedicated plan to address statewide teacher staffing shortages,” Montclair schools Superintendent Jonathan Ponds said Thursday. “We look forward to the proposals and ideas that come from the task force."

Ponds declined to comment on the district’s experience with teacher shortages for this story. 

Damen Cooper, the district’s director of human resources, has spoken at meetings over the past year about the district's efforts to expand its teacher search. By increasing the district's network of universities and colleges, as well as collaborating with historically Black colleges and universities along the northeast corridor, Cooper said he wants to make sure the district can access diverse talent across the state and region. Once teachers are hired, the district must work to make them feel valued, he said. 

“People don’t leave jobs they like,” Cooper said at an Aug. 8 board meeting. “They leave jobs where they don’t feel supported.”

In September 2021, parents of special education students and the Montclair Education Association said special education classrooms in the district started the school year without adequate staffing. David Goldblatt, interim director of pupil services, said at the time there were four special education vacancies. In December 2021, Jerilyn Mullen, Renaissance at Rand Middle School nurse, spoke at a school board meeting about how the district was short a nursing supervisor and that some district nurses were suffering because of it. The district has since filled the position. 

As of Dec. 16, there were 38 open teaching positions at the elementary, middle and high school levels on the district's hiring portal, as well as more than 40 other staff positions.