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Teacher shortage? Not in this district

Date: Monday, September 26, 2022

"council bluffs"No one would disagree that it can be a challenge filling teaching positions, particularly in identified shortage areas like secondary math and special education. But one district started the school year – on Day 1 – with every single teaching spot filled. Every. Single. Position.

Take a bow, Council Bluffs Community School District.

The accomplishment was no fluke but, rather, through a carefully orchestrated set of strategies designed to ensure success. In a nutshell, the district:

  • Signed letters of intent in the spring to hire their top student teachers.
  • Utilized teams of principals to interview candidates to expedite the hiring process and give candidates choice in their placements.
  • Reassigned a small number of teachers, based on their endorsements, to different buildings and/or subjects where there were staffing needs.
  • Offered $1,000 bonuses to teachers in December to come forth if they planned on leaving the district at the end of the school year. That way, recruiting could begin in January.

All the while, the district leverages their teacher leaders to ensure all of the proper supports are in place for each and every teacher in the district.

“It really comes down to, ‘can you be strategic and creative?’,” said district Superintendent Vickie Murillo. “It’s almost like a chess board. You have to start creatively recruiting. And once we get teachers here in the district, we have to work to keep them.”

The district has become more strategic in recent years. The Human Resources team now begins recruiting and filling positions in January based on historical hiring needs versus waiting for a position to become vacant.

“The resignations in June and July are very difficult to fill because people already have jobs,” Murillo said. 

The district also is leveraging two other programs to grow their own teacher candidate pool: a state grant that enables paraeducators to study to become teachers as well as a program in which current students are taking classes through Iowa Western Community College to eventually become teachers. Currently, nine paraeducators in the district are working to become certified teachers and 28 high school students are taking community college courses with the intent to become teachers within the district.

But all of it would be an exercise in futility if it weren’t for the district’s commitment to meet the needs of its teachers.

The district’s chief human resources officer, Garry Milbourn, said ensuring teachers are fully supported helps retain them and reduces turnover.

“We pride ourselves in the support we give our new teachers, and the professional development and growth opportunities we offer everyone,” he said. “Our full-time mentors are dedicated to our teachers.”

New teachers, in particular, need a lot of coaching early on, both to ensure they are teaching their students well but also to make sure they are developing confidence in the classroom. 

“This cohort of teachers needs more professional training throughout the year,” Milbourn said. “They need professional and emotional support. We also bring them together to reflect on what went well and what they struggle on. That really helps them to see that others are experiencing the same things they are.”

As for offering $1,000 bonuses for teachers to come forward early with their plans to leave the district, Murillo said that the money – which comes out of the district’s management fund – is money well spent.

“It is more costly opening up a school with substitutes in your classrooms,” she said. “And while we love our substitutes, we need to open the school year having fully credentialed teachers in each classroom. The students deserve it.”