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Schools get creative to fill classrooms

Courtesy Photo Hillman Elementary School kindergarten teacher Mason VanPamel appears with his students during Pajama Day of Spirit Week in this undated photo provided by Hillman Community Schools.

ALPENA — As industries nationwide feel the pinch of an employee shortage, schools have to work harder than usual to make sure classrooms are staffed as the new school year rolls around.

As of Friday, Alpena Public Schools administrators need to hire 19 teachers before school starts next month, including staffing six hard-to-fill special education posts.

With fewer applicants clamoring to fill their open positions than in the past, local school districts have turned to recruitment bonuses, non-traditional routes to certification, and added perks for current staff to keep qualified teachers in front of students.

If all else fails, Alpena students could have to learn from home if schools can’t fully staff classrooms.

A presentation in Alpena today could connect schools with people who will stand in front of classrooms next month, teaching as they learn to teach, said Justin Gluesing, superintendent of the Alpena-Montmorency-Alcona Educational Service District.

News Photo by Julie Riddle Samantha Wilson, executive director of human resources for Alpena Public Schools, explains online hiring information for APS at the district’s central office on Friday.

Local people who never considered becoming teachers could help Alpena-area school districts keep classrooms staffed and learning in-person, Gluesing said.

“As much as you search far and wide,” he said, “often the best candidates are right in front of you.”

Gluesing recently returned to Alpena, three years after he left an Alpena Public Schools administrative role to serve as superintendent at the Crawford AuSable School District.

Over the five years before he left APS, the pool of applicants wanting teaching jobs shrank dramatically. Where once administrators had to narrow a stack of resumes to make interviews manageable, by 2019 schools received shockingly few applications, Gluesing said.

Schools have always expected some turnover at the end of school years, but harvests of college graduates and teachers transferring from other districts typically filled open slots by the fall.

“It was never anything you had to worry about,” Gluesing said. “You thought it was going to be OK.”

Now, staff recruitment has become a year-round job, he said.

With fewer young people entering college teacher ed programs to replace teachers leaving the field, schools in recent years have had to ask teachers to announce impending retirements earlier.

A depleted pool of potential staff means schools have had to get creative to entice and retain teachers.

In an hour-long presentation at the AMA ESD central office today, Gluesing will explain a movement recently embraced by school districts to get people without teaching licenses in front of students at the same time they complete education required to earn that license.

Many people have neither money nor time to step away from the workforce to go back to school, Gluesing said.

Once skeptical of candidates who didn’t follow a traditional path to licensing, school districts anxious to fill teaching slots have learned to see the teacher potential in non-licensed members of their community, he said.

Someone with a background in chemistry could prove a natural fit for a science classroom, an engineering background for a math class, or an archaeology degree for a social studies course.

Before returning to Alpena, Gluesing helped his previous school district tap the talent of an artist who retired in Grayling after working in Hollywood, doing makeup for movies such as “Avengers: Infinity War.”

That person now teaches comic book drawing and other art forms to elementary students.

“They’re eating it up,” Gluesing said. “The district is better for it. And we’re doing right by kids.”

Schools need to help people stepping into schools from another profession learn to manage a classroom and to break down their body of knowledge to a beginner level – skills people may have innately without realizing it, Gluesing said.

To catch the attention of potential candidates, schools have to actively hunt for people who might fit the job but never give it a thought unless someone suggests it, he said.

At gatherings or around town, Gluesing looks for people with the qualities schools want and nudges them to consider teaching.

“You don’t know who might be out there, just talent in the waiting,” he said.

Drawing already-licensed teachers from out of the area, when they could go anywhere and get hired, means selling Alpena’s attractiveness as a place to live, work, and play, Gluesing said.

Online advertisements for APS positions tout the easy traffic, many recreational amenities, and “waking up where you vacation” to lure downstate teachers to consider moving Up North.

As of last week, APS needed to fill 17 full-time and two part-time teacher positions.

The district expects many of those to be filled after a hiring fair last week, according to Samantha Wilson, executive director of human resources for APS.

The district has held five such fairs in 2022 to try to fill a wide range of part- and full-time openings for teachers and other staff.

Last week’s fair drew 32 candidates for multiple positions, and the district intends to extend job offers to many of them, Wilson said.

The district especially needs six special education teachers — three at the junior high level and three for the high school — and has struggled to find people interested in those positions.

The district hopes a $5,000 recruitment bonus attached to the special education positions will help draw applicants.

In Onaway, a $3,750 recruitment bonus — 10% of the base salary for a new teacher — offered as incentive has not generated enough interest for the district to hire a 3rd grade teacher, said Onaway Area Community School District Superintendent Mindy Horn.

APS prefers already-certified teachers but will consider applicants interested in teaching provisionally while pursuing their teaching degree, Wilson said.

If it cannot fully staff the school by the beginning of the school year, APS will consider virtual learning for some of its classrooms, but only as a last resort, Wilson said.

The district knows more teacher retirements are coming in the 2022-2023 school year, but she is “cautiously optimistic” that students won’t suffer as a result, Wilson said.

In Hillman, a recent grant providing intervention assistance turned into full-time hires as two Americorp workers accepted full-time teaching positions for the upcoming school year, said Pamela Rader, interim superintendent for Hillman Community Schools.

No teachers left the district last school year, she said.

To support and try to keep current staff, the Hillman district as of last school year offers a $2,000 stipend to teachers who add a certification that benefits the district, such as a special education certificate or administration degree.

In a bid to keep current staff in Alpena schools, the APS board recently voted to increase benefits for teachers and other school staff positions.

Teaching is a tough job, Rader said, and teachers need to feel supported and appreciated to want to keep doing it — and it’s up to districts to provide that supportive environment, for the benefit of their students.

“We’re in it together,” Rader said. “As long as we continue to put students first, we’re going to be good.”

Julie Riddle can be reached at 989-358-5693 or jriddle@thealpenanews.com. Follow her on Twitter @jriddleX.

IF YOU GO

WHAT: Informational session for those interested in an alternate route to Michigan teacher certification

WHEN: 6 p.m. today

WHERE: Alpena-Montmorency-Alcona Educational Service District Central Office, 2118 U.S.-23 South, Alpena

HOW MUCH: Free

INFO: No pre-registration required. The alternative route to teacher certification is a non-traditional preparation program designed for people who hold a minimum of a bachelor’s degree and plan to complete an expedited teacher preparation program while employed as a teacher under an interim teaching certificate.

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