WORTHINGTON — Backpacks are filled with school supplies, students plan their first-day outfits and desks are lined up in classrooms ready to be filled with books, papers and writing materials, but early of the school year, many districts across the region are missing something vital: educators.

Area school districts have filled the gaps in a number of ways, extending teaching loads, combining classes, or having administrators teach, but it’s not just a shortage of teachers, as more than a few Districts are also struggling to find enough paraprofessionals, substitutes, caretakers and catering staff.

“At last count, I had 11 open teaching positions and 22 uncertified positions — paras and others,” said District 518 superintendent John Landgaard.

In order to fill the voids left by vacancies, some teachers have been moved from interventionist roles to the classroom, and some classes at Worthington Middle School and Worthington High School may be a little larger than usual.

In its recruiting efforts, the district offered incentives, participated in job fairs, advertised on Facebook, in print and elsewhere, and went above and beyond its usual processes to attract new employees.

“I think part of that has to do, especially in Minnesota, with the licensure barrier that’s been created. Getting licensed in Minnesota is difficult; it’s a lot of work and not a ton of pay difference,” Landgaard said.

People have also retired earlier than they originally planned, he said, and the overall pressure to be in education has increased, as has the pressure on those in charge of education. law enforcement or health care.

“It’s just very frustrating. I think because of the added stress and overall pressures, and the fact that for various reasons, a negative connotation has come not only to education, but also to health care and to our police force,” said Landgaard. “There are not as many candidates entering these professions. So until we figure out how to be, as a society in general, more supportive and willing to help people say it’s a good profession, it’s going to take some time to turn around.

Even schools that managed to find all the staff they needed often still had to make some changes. At Ellsworth, for example, no positions are currently open, but the school was to cover in-house music education.

“There just aren’t any music candidates,” said Amy Labat, K-12 manager there. “We just cover it internally. I’m a former music teacher, so I’m going to cover high school. Primary and middle school (music) are covered by other teachers.

Ellsworth even managed to find enough paraprofessionals, starting this week.

“We were actually very lucky and got all the hired positions,” Labat said. “We were lucky this year, but it very easily could not have been like this.”

“On the first day, our needs will be covered,” said Mike Pagel, superintendent and director of 7-12 year olds for schools in the Fulda region.

Fulda also had to make some changes in order to ensure class coverage. Typically, Fulda has two student sections for each grade level, but this year they have only one sixth grade student section, with a class size of 28 students.

In order to make such a large class work, the school made some adjustments to the room and ensured that there would be paraprofessional support – despite also some still unfilled openings for paraprofessionals.

Pagel said he feels lucky Fulda doesn’t have as many openings as some districts and there isn’t a lot of turnover in the summer months.

“We’ve actually been quite lucky here at Fulda,” he said.

“We would have liked to hire three more teachers, but they just aren’t there,” said Ray Hassing, superintendent of Round Lake-Brewster Schools. “But our schedule works, so we’re very lucky.”

Most RL-B classes have 15 to 20 students, and since there were no teachers available for hire, there will be a class of 24 students, he said.

“I would hire another teacher if they were there. I feel like most districts would right now with the teacher shortage,” Hassing said, noting that he could also use three or four additional paraprofessionals, but they don’t seem to be there either. .

He believes the teacher shortage is due to a lack of young people deciding to enter the profession as well as a negative stigma around teaching in the public, with ‘a lot of pressure on teachers today’ .

Adrian Schools has been unable to find a Spanish teacher or a K-12 music teacher, Superintendent Molly Schilling said. An elementary teacher was prepared to teach music at this age level, so the school will have elementary music, but no choir will be offered for middle or high school age groups, at least for the first semester.

The school is also looking for a payroll/human resources staff member who can also be the district’s MARRS coordinator, sending required student data to the State of Minnesota to calculate school funding.

Additionally, Adrian is still short of a few paraprofessionals and his food service provider is still looking for catering staff.

“We’re much better off than a lot of districts, but we’re also pretty sad that we can’t offer the full programs that we’re used to,” Schilling said.

As some higher education institutions require a foreign language, Adrian seniors who wish to take a second year will be connected to an online course if they wish.

“It’s definitely something we’ll be working to bring back, because we want to make sure we’re giving our kids every opportunity,” Schilling said. “…this year we felt that all of our students were in a pretty good position to go to a two- or four-year school if they wanted to.”

As for what her school is doing to attract new recruits, she joked, “Call and beg?” Before continuing “Seriously, you look around, who might you know or who in the community might have a connection? (We) look at recent or former Adrian graduates, finding out what they do, having a list of those who could have started in this field.

Schilling explained that people with ties to the area are much more likely to stay.

The retirement of baby boomers, particularly in the wake of COVID-19 and the unrest caused by the pandemic, has driven some of the shortage, Schilling said.

“I don’t think we’ve treated (education) as a respected profession for quite some time and I don’t think that helps,” Schilling added.

Additionally, she noted that sometimes teachers forget to tell others how enjoyable and rewarding their work is and only talk about the negative aspects.

“I think we just have to keep working together to realize that education, whether public or private, is a really rewarding profession and it’s essential,” Schilling said. “Our children, our future needs us, we need good people in the classrooms who work with children and coach them. And without that, I’m a very nervous mother…I’m a nervous mother if we can’t provide strong people in our classrooms for all of our children.

Heron Lake-Okabena schools are short of a high school special education teacher and a high school English instructor, said Paul Bang, superintendent/principal.

He’s been posting vacancies since March and has spoken to various people about the job, even people with four-year degrees who aren’t currently working. He also tried to bring retired teachers back into the field.

Bang will be spending time in the classroom teaching this year, and some staff will be overworked to provide coverage.

“We’re going to get through this, it’s just not fun,” he said.

“For us, it’s special education, so I just need someone to teach that class,” Bang explained. “If I had multiple sections, I could probably combine them, and the larger districts could combine them – but we’re not able to do that.”

He believes the shortage has a number of different causes, including the retirement of baby boomers and how COVID-19 has pushed a number of people in this age group out of the labor market.

“It’s hard to compete for positions when our starting salary compared to other college-educated professions is lower, but that’s always been the case,” Bang added.

He hopes some students will graduate in December and fill the ranks of teachers.

“We just have to do what’s best for the kids and keep moving,” he added.

Sibley-Ocheyedan ​​schools have three open teaching positions, all at middle school level, one for special education, one for seventh and eighth grade English and another for seventh and eighth grade math, said Superintendent James Craig.

While SO was set up to be a three-section district, this year seventh and eighth graders will be split into two sections instead. Two of the remaining teachers are certified in math, so with a few back and forths the whole teaching is covered. A substitute teacher has a background in English and will help a reading teacher to cover the needs.

“We have three seasoned teachers covering these classes, and they’ve really stepped up and understand that there’s nothing we can do about it now,” Craig said. “They know the kids they have, they’re confident in their abilities, just like us. And they’ve really stepped up and represented what it means to be a general.”

In special education, some students with individualized learning plans may be required to work with other qualified teachers, perhaps in high school or an elementary special education teacher who may visit middle school after school. midday.

“So we’re figuring things out,” Craig said. “But we will keep our positions open and hope to hire within a semester.”

He believes much of the teacher shortage is due to educators not returning after the pandemic and fewer students majoring in education in college. He also feels that the national media often portrays public education as unresponsive to student needs and failing to show the many things schools actually do for their students. In addition, many issues related to education have become politically charged in recent years.

“It’s really hard to find people to fill positions, regardless of their degree or certification,” Craig said. “But at the end of the day, we have a safe school that provides a great education and we have people who are going to help us through this. And kids are always going to be prepared for their future, and at the end of the day, that’s what’s important.