Schools in Douglas County struggle with teacher shortages
School administrators say that finding applicants is one of the biggest challenges.
DOUGLAS COUNTY — Osakis Superintendent Randy Bergquist said that if someone would have told him 10 years ago that schools would have a tough time finding enough teacher applicants, he would have told them they were crazy.
But, unfortunately, they were right. Just like many businesses across the nation, some schools are struggling to find enough teachers, especially in certain areas.
Bergquist said in the Osakis School District, they have had a hard time finding applicants for teaching positions in special education and career and tech education.
“I would say there is a teacher shortage across the country,” said Bergquist. “We do advertise teaching positions but every school is facing the same challenge of finding applicants and often the teacher shortages across the state are in CTE (Career and Tech Ed), special education, music, art and some specific subjects like science.”
Peggy Stowe, principal at St. Agnes School in Osakis said she has not been able to find a kindergarten teacher this year.
“I had a long-term sub to start the year, but she ended at Thanksgiving,” said Stowe. “I have been teaching since then. We had a similar issue four years ago with trying to find a teacher for our first/second-grade combination class.”
Brandon-Evansville Superintendent Louisa Glenetske, said her school district has dealt with some shortages of staff and have filled some of those positions with unlicensed staff.
“We have been very fortunate to find qualified individuals to fill these positions,” she said, noting that specialty areas are most difficult to fill. “If there is an individual that has a four-year degree that is interested in being involved in education I would encourage them to contact their local school to see how they can help. Becoming a substitute is a great way to get involved in the school and still have great flexibility for your family life.”
Glenetske also said that the B-E district has struggled more with its unlicensed positions such as custodians, kitchen staff, etc.
“These positions are just as important to the education of students and have been difficult to fill,” she said.
Alexandria Public Schools Superintendent Rick Sansted said the district has a licensed teacher in every role, but the number of applicants for any position has dropped significantly in the last decade.
Sansted said there is a course at the high school, Center for Advanced Professional Studies, that is aimed at growing future teachers.
“We have a first grade teacher at Voyager as a result of the program,” he said.
There are other items the district is doing to recruit teachers, especially in special education, he said, including having incentives in hard to fill contracts, working with higher education institutions for licensure, tuition support for Tier 2 teachers finishing their licensure and having an instructional coach specializing in special education.
For retaining teachers, Sansted said the district offers a robust teacher mentor program.
“We have a three-year program for our new teachers. The first year they are assigned a one-to-one mentor,” he said. “We have a teacher induction coordinator that continues to support them and instructional coaches who support them. They meet together on an ongoing basis throughout the year.”
He said they also have instructional coaches to support all teachers and they have five professional development days per year devoted to structured teacher learning.
Berguist said he has never experienced this before and that some of the challenges for hiring teachers is, like others have said, a lack of candidates.
“Also, teachers with degrees can make more money in other areas and not have to put up with the pressures of state-mandated requirements, the lack of resources for their classrooms and the lack of communication and misunderstanding from outside entities,” he said.
Kalon Prep Academy School Director Chris Kragenbring said her school has been fortunate to hire qualified and experienced teachers.
“Our only challenging area is in math,” she said. “We have one highly qualified math teacher but could use a second one so he doesn’t have to teach an overload. We have posted the position for two years and haven’t had an applicant.”
Kragenbring said they found a solution in one of the school's paraprofessionals, who had written, “I love working with math,” on her application last summer.
“She is phenomenal so this past fall, I asked her if she would consider completing her degree,” she said. “We researched and found a fast-track program. Because school is expensive and time consuming, the school board approved for her to use E-learning days and one hour per day of paid time to work on her courses.”
Kragenbring said this person will be now credited for her years of service as a paraprofessional on the teacher salary scale when she starts as a licensed teacher this coming fall.
One issue that has not been a concern for Kalon Prep, said Kragenbring, is teacher retention.
“We have a close knit team. I credit that to starting the school year with a strengths-based foundation that has been maintained,” she said, adding that they used a Douglas County Mental Health Collaborative grant to help pay for this training. “We also gather as a staff on a weekly basis to celebrate successes, share concerns and problem-solve any challenges. This helps us support each other. Teaching is hard heart work that is incredibly demanding and absolutely worth it. I believe that Kalon’s ‘Love them first’ philosophy creates a culture that has helped us retain teachers as well.”