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Twin Cities districts scrambling to find more teachers as school start looms

If need be, schools will deploy backup plans that range from expanding class sizes to employing long-term substitute teachers to help bridge critical gaps in staffing. 

Como Elementary
For each of the state’s three largest districts, the hunt for teacher talent will continue right up to, and likely through, the first day of school.
MinnPost file photo by Bill Kelley

While students consult back-to-school supply lists and rethink morning routines, school administrators are working hard to ensure they have a full roster of licensed teachers ready to greet students next week, when most begin the new school year. 

Typically, the hiring season for these positions takes place during the spring. But for many districts recruitment efforts for licensed teachers — especially in shortage areas like math, science, special education and world languages — often extend into the summer months.  

For each of the state’s three largest districts — Anoka-Hennepin Schools, St. Paul Public Schools and Minneapolis Public Schools — the hunt for teacher talent will continue right up to, and likely through, the first day of school. As of Wednesday, hiring directors from each district said they are still working to fill more than 30 licensed teacher positions.

Other districts in the metro area, and beyond, continue to advertise teacher job openings as well. And, if need be, schools will deploy backup plans that range from expanding class sizes to employing long-term substitute teachers to help bridge critical gaps in staffing. 

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The demand for fully licensed long-term substitute teachers this time of year has increased in recent years, says Al Sowers, vice president and practice leader of the Bloomington-based substitute teacher provider Teachers On Call, which partners with districts across Minnesota.

“The two most common reasons are maternity leave and unfilled positions, or vacant teacher roles,” he said. “Our long-term [sub] requests are up about 84 percent at this point in time over last year, so we’re seeing a significant spike in need — nearly double.”

Ahead of the new school year, he says his company has already helped place more than 250 long-term subs in Minnesota schools. Additionally, he’s looking to fill another 67 requests as soon as possible. 

“My advice to school districts would be to continue their progressive recruiting reach and efforts because the demand for qualified teacher talent is not going to lessen.”

Recruiting and troubleshooting

In the St. Paul Public Schools district, school administrators are busy filling teacher vacancies that span grade levels and content areas. Kenyatta McCarty, assistant director of Human Resources for the district, says only a handful of these vacancies are at the elementary level. And if they end up needing to bring on a long-term sub while continuing to search for a permanent classroom teacher, she says school leaders will share that information with parents, along with their plans to fill those spots for the remainder of the school year. 

The vast majority of current teacher vacancies — totaling 39, as of Wednesday — she adds, are at the secondary school level — primarily serving special education students. She and her team are also still looking to place math, science and physical education teachers.

While we attempt to have our positions filled, because of last-minute retirements, resignations, we may never be 100 percent full on day one,” she said. 

Over the course of this summer, these sorts of vacancies placed an added strain on McCarty and her colleagues, who have been working hard to hire qualified teachers. At the start of the month, they had about 150 vacancies to fill, she says. 

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Recruitment efforts to fill the remaining 39 vacancies will continue into the school year, with subs for core content areas brought on — with the help of Teachers On Call — to bridge these gaps in staffing. If a long-term sub placement for an unfilled vacancy through this partnership proves to be a good fit, McCarty says the district may look to bring that teacher on full time. 

‘Still cranking out offers’

In Minneapolis, the district’s talent acquisition team has a count of about 48 vacancies for licensed teachers that it’s trying to shrink in the next few days. 

Between today and Saturday, we’re still cranking out offers, bringing in people for on-boarding,” Candra Bennett, director of talent acquisition for the district, said in an interview Wednesday. “We definitely are on this mad push to get as many people who are in our pipelines up to be in front of kids on Tuesday.”

In line with common shortage areas, many of the district’s teaching vacancies are in math, science and special education. There’s also a need for physical education and music teachers — specialties that can be hard to fill when they don’t offer full-time positions, Bennett says. 

While doubling down on recruitment and hiring efforts, Bennett says her team is also working with leadership at high-need sites on short-term solutions to ensure roles are filled on the first day of school. Often, that means pulling teachers on special assignment or district program facilitators — both licensed staff members — away from their teacher and program support duties to teach students instead. They also pull talent from an in-house pool of substitute teachers. 

While the pressure to fill open positions has her and her team, which is currently short-staffed,  working long days and weekends this time of year, Bennett’s outlook on the district’s current teacher vacancy status is largely positive. They may be dealing with 48 vacancies, but that equates to a 99 percent fill rate. 

And in terms of special-education teacher vacancies — historically some of the hardest spots to fill — she says they have the highest fill rate they’ve had in the last five years. 

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“That’s a really big feat for us,” she said, attributing success to the district’s new teacher residency program that supports nonlicensed staff in pursuing their special-education teacher licensure, combined with an early contract exception for hiring external candidates in this specialty area. 

Sarah Kriewall
Sarah Kriewall
In the Anoka-Hennepin district, 27 of the district’s 39 teacher vacancies are at the elementary school level. Sarah Kriewall, director of employee services for the district, shared those numbers Wednesday, but expects to see that count go down in the next few days as principals send her updates on last-minute hires. 

The current hiring needs are driven, in part, by enrollment numbers at two new elementary schools that have outpaced earlier enrollment projections, says Kriewall. There’s also the challenge of filling part-time vacancies and finding talent so late in the hiring season to fill last-minute retirements and resignations. 

If these positions remain unfilled, she says she’ll rely on two main backup plans: daily subs — pulled from an in-house substitute teacher pool — and internal adjustments, like increasing special-education teacher caseloads. 

“It’s not uncommon at this time of the year to still have some vacancies,” she said. “Many are interviewing at this time and in that pipeline. Principals work very diligently to get all their hiring done.”