BAY COUNTY, Fla. (WJHG/WECP) - After Hurricane Michael, hundreds of students left the area.
Teachers like Jesslyn Garza saw firsthand the impact of the storm on their students.
"Only four came back after the hurricane," said Garza.
That led Bay District Schools to close some schools, like Oscar Patterson Elementary, where Garza taught kindergarten.
"After the hurricane, my whole entire school came to Parker [Elementary]," said Garza, who now teaches third grade.
But now, with a new school year underway, educators are starting to realize there are more students than expected.
"Some of our Parker families have come back and then we're also welcoming brand new families that are rezoned to our area," said Chris Coan, Parker Elementary's principal.
Now there's a new problem: there aren't enough teachers to lead the classrooms.
"The good news is is that more students have enrolled than we expected, the bad news is now we're back in a teacher shortage," said Executive Director of Human Resources for Bay District Schools Shirley Baker.
"We have some teachers that are sitting at almost 30 students, and that's a lot," said Garza.
Bay District Schools officials tell us the number of teachers in the area has dropped by hundreds. October 1 of last year, there were about 1,700 teachers, then by May, there were about 1,600. Now, as of August 1, there are only about 1,400 teachers.
"We're probably going to post anywhere between 20 to 40 positions. It just depends right now, once we finalize the enrollment numbers," said Baker.
While all schools can use more teachers, elementary schools are especially short-staffed.
"I've been visiting elementary schools and on average each of the schools are going to need between one and three more teachers," said Baker.
"Every day there's somebody walking in. 'Here's your new student,'" said Garza.
With every new student coming back to school, teachers and officials feel it's one step closer toward rebuilding the area.
"Every day it's getting better, that there is, you know, Panama City, we are coming back," said Garza.
District officials are asking for those who at least have a bachelor's degree to reach out and if you're interested in teaching they'll point you in the right direction to get certified.
The fingerprinting fees will also be waived until the end of September.
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