Help wanted: District struggles to hire teachers

Students leave Coyote Springs Elementary School in Prescott Valley after a day of classes. The Humboldt Unified School District has 15 teaching positions it has been unable to fill this summer. (PNI file photo)

Students leave Coyote Springs Elementary School in Prescott Valley after a day of classes. The Humboldt Unified School District has 15 teaching positions it has been unable to fill this summer. (PNI file photo)

Humboldt Unified School District is having difficulty filling multiple open teaching positions and while there has been some progress, there are still a few openings left, Superintendent Dan Streeter said. While the job listings page of the district's website shows that there are more than 15 open positions for some type of teacher, Streeter clarified in a later email that it is not a direct correlation to the actual number of openings. Multiple openings are posted in order to find the best candidate and existing staff is moved around, he wrote.

It’s not uncommon to have open positions during the summer, but what is being seen now that is uncommon is that there are fewer candidates coming forward, Streeter said.

“That’s really indicative of the teaching shortage around the state that’s now reaching a critical point,” he said.

One position actually opened very recently with the departure of Bradshaw Mountain High School band director Chris Tenney, who accepted a position at Yavapai College as an associate professor of instrumental music.

Tenney was at the high school for five years and it was his second school district, having taught for a different district for two years prior to that. Being a college professor was a goal and dream ever since he started teaching, Tenney said.

“The opportunity presented itself,” Tenney said, noting that he took it despite how much he loved being at Bradshaw Mountain High School. “Right time, right place I guess.”

Streeter said Tenney did a fantastic job with the band and is a tremendous teacher who did a great job growing the program. The most damaging aspect to his leaving is the timing as he was hired in the middle of June and created a hole on campus, he said. However, the district has a strong middle school band director that can help the program stay and maintain the level it’s at, Streeter said.

That’s Trudy Gruver, band director for Glassford Hill Middle School, who Tenney said he is glad she is around to help make it a smooth transition for the students. She’s had experience with most of them, so they’re comfortable with her, he said.

Not all area school districts are having trouble filling positions. Chino Valley Unified School District was fully staffed until two teachers turned in their resignations this week.

The number of open positions in the Humboldt district is more than the 10 unfilled positions it has last year, Streeter said. When positions go unfilled, the secondary level is easier to manage, he said.

“Those teachers will go on overload contracts. They’ll teach through their prep hour, they get extra compensation … the challenge is it creates a high level of stress when you use that prep time and you increase your caseload,” Streeter said. “Think about as an English teacher, a regular load is five classes, that’s 150 students, 150 essays, you take on an overload contract, you just added 30 essays you’re taking home on the weekend to grade.”

At the elementary level, it’s much more challenging but there are instructional specialist and Title I teachers that can step in where there are holes, Streeter said.

No matter what though, the district is adamant to not settle on a candidate, Streeter said, noting that there has always been the mindset to be stubborn when hiring teachers because students deserve the best and teachers deserve the best colleagues who are able to perform at the level the current teachers are at. Though while compromise is out of the picture, attracting people can get creative, he said.

“Out of state recruiting, we’re looking at some grow your own programs, find people anchored in the community and get them on a fast track certification process, there’s some intern certificate programs where we can pay for people to go through the courses to become certified and get them into schools,” Streeter said. “Really, being rural Arizona, we’ve had to look at more creative ways to get candidates.”

It’s not just this area that’s feeling the teaching shortage either as there are about 1,000 open teaching positions in the state of Arizona, Streeter said. Districts from all around the state are competing for the same few candidates, he said. What’s more is that the annual mean wage for teaching professionals changes throughout the regions of Arizona with those in the Phoenix area making an average of $45,990 per year and those in the Prescott area making an average of $40,870 per year, according to www.teachingdegree.org.

The shortage has been going on for the last few years and things are starting to come to a head, Streeter said.

One is that teacher preparation programs in the state are turning out fewer and fewer candidates, Streeter stated. Teachers set to retire are growing every year and right now that number looks to be 23 percent and those programs are only impacting 7 percent, he said.

Another is the political climate, Streeter said.

“It’s been a challenge. Funding is obviously low. I don’t know if our representatives are intentionally creating this education perception, but it’s certainly what the feeling is out there and we’re starting to see some of the ramifications,” he said. “Until the state comes out and makes a commitment to investing in education, I think we’re going to continue to deal with this problem.”