Willmar experiencing teacher shortage: Other school districts, businesses report similar difficulties filling openings

WILLMAR -- With less than two weeks to go until teachers go back to work, Willmar Public Schools are struggling to fill nearly a dozen teaching openings.

WILLMAR - With less than two weeks to go until teachers go back to work, Willmar Public Schools are struggling to fill nearly a dozen teaching openings.
At the Willmar School Board meeting Monday, Director of Human Resources Liz Fischer said many school districts are finding it difficult to fill staff openings.
“It’s not unique to our district,” she said.
Board members asked why things are so different from a few years ago, when schools had many applicants for each job opening.
Fischer and Director of Teaching and Learning Cheryl Nash said districts and other businesses around the state are having trouble filling jobs. Nash said she attended a meeting where many superintendents talked about the challenge in finding qualified employees.
Board member Laura Warne, president of Home State Bank, said many industries including banking have similar problems.
It appears to be a statewide problem, Fischer said. It started in the Twin Cities area first but now is hitting rural schools as well. “Three and a half years ago when I started, we had many more applicants,” she said.
In a letter to the Minnesota Department of Education early this year, the federal government acknowledged teacher shortages in the state in a long list of specialties, including agricultural education, mathematics, sciences, career-related training, many areas of special education, reading, English as a second language, and world languages and cultures.
For some openings, the number of applicants dwindles throughout the process, with more starting an application than completing it. Some candidates schedule interviews but cancel them because they’ve found another job, Fischer said.
Board member Mike Reynolds suggested that the district might need to shorten its application process to get more people to interview.
Another concern was expressed by board member Linda Mathiasen. “How well are we retaining people,” she asked. It seems as though the district has lost a number of young teachers in recent years, she added.
Fischer said the district is developing a mentoring program, which should help new teachers get acquainted with the district. Nash agreed that a mentoring program would be helpful, particularly to familiarize people with some of the programs introduced in the past few years. “People can feel lost,” she said.
Fischer said a program to get more people interested in being on-call substitute teachers is going well. She had appealed to local businesses to encourage employees to take a day to substitute in the district. Several people are in the process of applying for substitute licenses. Anyone with a bachelor’s degree is qualified to be an on-call short term substitute teacher.
In other business, Nash told the board the state has announced changes to the testing required for high school graduation. Students must take the tests, but they will not have to meet certain scores to graduate. It will be up to individual districts to set graduation requirements.
Starting with the coming school year, students in grade 8 will take the Explore test, which measures reading, writing and math.
In grade 10, students will take the Plan test, which is a precursor to the ACT test. The Explore and Plan testing will be used to gauge student growth and to inform students and parents about strengths and interests.
On April 28, 2015, all high school juniors in the state will take the ACT test, Nash said. There will be one makeup day.
Nash said the state is still writing more specific guidelines for the new testing schedules, and she will have more to tell the board later.
Nash said the new testing should deliver better data to schools which can be used to improve instruction.
Testing results from the 2013-14 school year will be released later this month, she said. The state’s Multiple Measurement Rating System results will be released in October.
The board approved a list of personnel changes, which included a number of new employees hired to replace ones who had resigned or retired. One of the hires was Amy Sack to be assistant principal at the Middle School. She will succeed Beckie Simenson who left to be the middle school principal in the Litchfield School District.
A contract with the Willmar Police Department to provide school resource officers in the schools was approved. The contract runs through 2017.

In 42 years in the newspaper industry, Linda Vanderwerf has worked at several daily newspapers in Minnesota, including the Mesabi Daily News, now called the Mesabi Tribune in Virginia. Previously, she worked for the Las Cruces Sun-News in New Mexico and the Rapid City Journal in the Black Hills of South Dakota. She has been a reporter at the West Central Tribune for nearly 27 years.

Vanderwerf can be reached at email: or phone 320-214-4340
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