Fully staffed but not immune to teacher shortage

Growing School District able to fill all but one position but dwindling number of applicants a concern
Ozaukee Press staff

A Grafton School District whose enrollment continues to grow was poised this week to start the school year fully staffed, but that doesn’t mean it’s immune to the affects of a national teacher shortage that is of concern even to school systems that haven’t had problems recruiting top-notch teachers.

Supt. Jeff Nelson told the School Board last week that the district has filled all its open positions with the exception of a part-time high school job.

“We weren’t able to fill that position at the high school with a qualified candidate,” Nelson said, resulting in larger class sizes in that particular area. “We had to ask staff to take on an overload with additional pay in order to be able to offer the classes.”

The people hired by the district this year were described by Nelson as high-quality teachers and “really great people,” but as the number of applications for teaching jobs shrinks, finding stand-out educators is becoming more difficult, he said.

“As we were going through our openings this year it felt a little like last year, like we have fewer candidates, although we were really fortunate to have some really great people apply to be in our district,” Nelson said. “As the pool (of applicants) shrinks, you have less of a chance of getting a great candidate, and that’s what we’re seeing.”

That feeling is confirmed by the data, Director of Business Services Topher Adams said.

“Going back 10 or 15 years, you might have someone say those were the good old days when we had hundreds of people apply,” he said. “That really hasn’t been the case for the last five years. You can see a definite downward trend in the number of applicants.”

The data show a particularly noticeable drop in applications this school year.

The average number of applicants per open position at elementary schools in the district has dropped by 55 in the last five years, from 79 in the 2018-19 school year to 24 this year. Last year, the average number of applicants was 41.

The average number of applications for positions in sixth through 12th grades was 10 this school year, half as many as last year.

Average applications for special education positions, which are typically more difficult to fill, also dropped by half, from eight last school year to four this year.

“No one would say we were high last year, but now we’re looking at getting four people applying per posted position,” Adams said.

The Grafton School District’s experience is not unique, and fewer people applying for teaching positions will force some districts across the country to make difficult choices, Nelson said.

“If you can’t find someone to fill a particular position at the secondary level, then maybe that becomes an online class and you offer it in a different way,” he said, referring to an elective course. “You can’t do that at the elementary level, but there are things that can be done at the secondary level that aren’t the best for kids” but become options for districts struggling to attract teachers.

That’s not the reality in the Grafton School District, but it must continue to develop new employee recruitment and retention strategies to compete for a shrinking number of high quality educators, Nelson said.

“We’re able to hire high-quality people, but it’s something we’re very aware is an issue,” he said. “The narrative across the nation is that the sky is falling. That’s not our narrative.

“Our narrative is we’re staffed, we feel good about the team we have but we are watching the numbers and are concerned that the number of applicants is shrinking.”

To strengthen its recruitment efforts, Nelson said, the district is working to develop relationships with universities and bolster its student teacher program.

“Do we need to incentivize some of our staff to have student teachers?” he asked. “It’s more work for teachers, but it’s a pipeline we need.”

Recruiting educators before they’re teachers — ones that are products of the Grafton School District — could also be beneficial, Nelson said.

“How can we help students with an interest in education have an experience in our high school that prepares them for college and at least guarantee them an interview when they come back after graduating from college?” he asked.

School Board President Paul Lorge said preparing to compete for a shrinking number of teachers is vital for the district.

“Determining new strategies, different strategies of retention and recruitment is imperative,” he said. “It’s a competitive market. As the applicant pool shrinks, we can ensure that with the best strategies we can get the best candidates.”






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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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