NEWARK, N.J. (PIX11) – Newark Public Schools hired more than 600 new teachers ahead of the school year to mitigate the districtwide teacher shortage.

New Jersey and the rest of the country have been facing a teacher shortage since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“What COVID did was it forced a lot of people to re-examine their retirement goals and some people left early,” said John Abeigon, president of the Newark Teachers Union.

Newark, which is New Jersey’s largest school district, had been dealing with overcrowded classrooms. District officials credited several initiatives that helped attract and retain hundreds of teachers.

Newark Public Schools is now one of the highest paying in New Jersey, according to the Newark Board of Education. The district has been using a higher starting salary of $62,000 to lure teachers, raised from $55,000.

The district has also partnered with educator preparation programs at Montclair State University and Rutgers University-Newark to establish a teacher pipeline to fill teaching positions that are typically harder to staff, such as bilingual, ESL and special education teachers.

Despite all the new hires, district officials said there’s still more work to be done.

“We aren’t done filling teacher vacancies but we’ve welcomed over one thousand teachers over the last three years, which proves what we already know to be true: Newark Public Schools is the place to be,” said Dawn Haynes, president of the Newark Board of Education.

The first day of classes in Newark Public Schools is Sept. 6.