KEYC - Local Schools Learning Quickly To Address Teacher Shortage

Local Schools Learning Quickly To Address Teacher Shortage

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FAIRMONT, Minn. -

Making sure there are enough teachers for students has become a struggle for many districts.

If a position can't be filled, it means larger class sizes and more pressure on teachers and students.

Ms. Carnehl is piecing together her classroom as she prepares for her first school year as a sixth-grade language arts and social studies teacher in the Fairmont School District.

New Fairmont teacher Lisa Carnehl said, "I love working with kids. I love being in here with them every day. It's a real blessing that I've found this job."

She's the latest hires for the district this school year after finishing a master's program in Scotland. 

"My husband was offered a job here in Fairmont about toward the end of May. So when that happened, and we knew that was coming, I immediately worked on switching over my teaching license, getting a Minnesota teaching license and as that process was happening, I started searching for jobs," Carnehl said. 

Fairmont Area Schools Superintendent Joe Brown said, "We acted on it very quickly. I mean, within hours, we contacted this person, in Scotland, got her interviewed, offered her the job and she accepted."

Acting quickly to hire the best teachers has become the norm for Fairmont Superintendent Joe Brown as the application pool has dried up.

This year, Brown and the district filled ten openings, hiring educators fresh out of college and up to three decades of experience. One even came out of retirement. 

"In past years, we would never consider hiring a teacher that had 30 or 33 years experience because they're at the top of the salary schedule. They're more expensive but in this day in age, with the shortage, we have to hire the best and the brightest people, regardless of where they are," Brown said. 

It's a drastic change from ten years ago when they would see a hundred applicants for one opening.

Brown said, "Two years ago, we had a fifth-grade opening, and we had zero applicants. None. And I had to actually borrow a teacher from a neighboring district."

The trend goes beyond the boundaries of the Fairmont School District affecting schools across the state and nation.

Minnesota School Boards Association Executive Director Kirk Schneidawind said, "We know there are some specific areas, from science, special ed., mathematics, but we also know, especially from our rural districts that they are facing shortages in nearly all of their areas."

In Fairmont, Brown has a specific area he struggles to fill.

"Years ago, it used to be math and science. We always said it was hard to get a math teacher and science teacher. In my 23 years serving as a school administrator, I have found it easier to find a physics and chemistry teacher than it is a language arts teacher. A high school English teacher, in my opinion, is the most challenging teacher to find," Brown said.

The Minnesota School Boards Association adds there is also a shortage when it comes to teachers of colors. 

It's led to action this legislative session, passing more than $3 million in grants to address the shortage and including allowing people in the vocational industries to teach some trades classes.

Schneidawind said, "The industrial tech areas, automotive areas or family and consumer science. To bring some of those people from outside into the classroom, so they don't have the barriers and hurdles."

In Fairmont, they've adjusted contracts to allow teachers to carry over sick leave from a previous school, covering some expenses as teachers continue their education and a hiring bonus with an increased salary.

Brown said, "Even though you may only have one or two years of experience if I need you bad enough, I could bump your salary."

It's helped ensure that when this school year starts, the district is at full staff with 117 teachers and about half of those hired during Brown's tenure, now the focus turns to 12 months away.

"Superintendents, principals and the human resource directors, we have to start today to recruit teachers for the 18–19 school year because if we wait until April and May of next year, it's too late," said Brown. 

The issue is also one that will persist.

"We know that this is a long term issue for our districts. It's not just going to be a one year, two year. We're going to continue plug away at this and make sure that we can get more high-quality people into the classroom for our school districts,"  Schneidawind said.

Among the main causes for the shortage are baby boomer teachers retiring and fewer college students majoring in education.

Brown says he continues to encourage people to go into teaching even with some challenges. 

--KEYC News 12