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San Jose Schools Use Tech to Address Teacher Shortage

The classes operate through Coursemojo, an educational technology company that brings hybrid teaching to classrooms across the country. It is an idea spun from the pandemic.

On a Wednesday morning in May, a dozen students streamed into their geometry class at the Cindy Avitia High School. But instead of looking toward the blackboard, the 10th graders opened up their laptops — and got ready to connect with a teacher nearly 3,000 miles away.

Their class is one of 11 taught by a virtual teacher at the charter school, which is pulling in educators from Texas, Alaska and Maryland to address California’s teacher shortage.

“I know it’s not ideal for our students — we all know that,” said Shara Hegde, the CEO of Alpha Public Schools, a charter network with four schools in San Jose. “But until we really, radically change the education profession here in the United States, we’re going to be looking at solutions like this.”

The geometry class, and all the virtual classes at Cindy Avitia, operate through Coursemojo, an educational technology company that brings hybrid teaching to classrooms across the country. It is an idea spun from the pandemic, and months of thinking about what went wrong — and what went right — with virtual teaching during a crisis.

Though the company was initially designed to expand elective offerings like cybersecurity and animation, almost immediately its founders saw how it could fill gaps in core subjects like geometry, algebra and physics. Today, 11 credentialed Coursemojo educators teach classes at three charter school networks in California, the majority of whom are teaching math and science. There are 50 Coursemojo teachers at work across the country, including in Texas, Colorado, Indiana, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma and Washington, D.C.

“Great teachers have never been equitably distributed, especially to the kids who need them most,” said Dacia Toll, who founded Coursemojo after operating a charter school network in the Northeast. “For me, the mental door opened when I saw what some of our most effective teachers were doing online [during COVID-19].”

Even before the pandemic, 80 percent of California’s school districts were experiencing a shortage of teachers, according to data from the Learning Policy Institute, a nonprofit research organization that focuses on education policy. COVID-19 aggravated that trend, with the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing reporting there were more than 10,000 teacher vacancies across the state during the 2021-2022 school year. And for schools like Cindy Avitia, which serve mostly low-income students whose parents are immigrants, the impacts of those teacher shortages are particularly severe.

Hope Evans, a former principal of an Alpha charter middle school who now works for Coursemojo to support partner schools, said she used to juggle her administrative duties with picking up classes after teachers quit and couldn’t be replaced.

“At one point, I was teaching math classes and my assistant principal was teaching English,” said Evans. “That puts a significant strain on a school, and a significant strain on the teachers, principals and administrators who have to cover classes. And when you’re doing that, that means something else doesn’t get done, and the school doesn’t function as it should.”

(c)2023 Silicon Valley, San Jose. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.