Moving sales announce exodus of teachers
Scanning Nome’s buy and sell page on Facebook or reading daily email blasts regarding local announcements, one thing is clear: people are moving out of Nome.
Unfortunately for the Nome school district and local students, many of those movers happen to make up almost 40 percent of the teaching staff at Nome Public Schools.
As of this week, the official count came in at 21 teachers, out of a teaching staff of 54. There are also six classified staff members leaving.
Classified staff consists of non-contract employees such as office workers and instructional aides. Out of everyone leaving, only five people are official retirees: four retiring teachers and one classified staff member.
“With over 20 of 54 teachers in Nome Public Schools leaving after this school year, it is an unusual number of departures compared to previous years,” Superintendent Shawn Arnold told The Nome Nugget. “We are being more aggressive in our recruitment of effective educators in the coming year. However, with the growing shortage of qualified applicants around the state and nation, due to a trend of less people wanting to enter the teaching profession, we have to be much more proactive in hiring.”
So why is everyone leaving Nome, or at least the school district?
The most straightforward answer could be: Uncertainty. “The main reason many staff have given for leaving is an uncertainty of state and local funding from year to year,” said Superintendent Arnold. He explained that many of the departing staff never knew what programs or staff positions may be cut next, and were concerned about the lack of resources for their programs of study.
While a lack of educational funding is not a new problem for the NPS, the district remains confident that they can continue to deliver consistent instruction to their students. “We are assuming we will receive adequate funding from the state and city of Nome to continue providing the level of quality instruction our students have come to known,” said Superintendent Arnold.
The district will not know exactly what type of funding situation they are in until they receive a final contribution amount from the City of Nome. According to the superintendent, several positions that were not filled this year will not be filled out in the upcoming school year.
A shortage of teachers is a problem going on not just in Nome, but also around the nation. The need is great, and the selection is limited. To ramp up their efforts to widen the selection by increasing the number of “Nome Grown” teachers, the district is starting to create programs that make kids want to teach.
At Nome-Beltz, “Educators Rising” is a club that offers a forum for students who are interested in becoming teachers. The club also provides resources like scholarship competitions, course materials, and even teacher assistant positions. Although the club is a great springboard program for interested kids, the number of members is small compared to the need for teachers in the area.
“Every single one of our students that graduate from high school would have to become an education major,” said Superintendent Arnold of being able to hire only local teachers in the future to fill the district’s need.
The school district is not the only one who sees a need for growing more teachers from the area. Norton Sound Economic Development Corporation, NSEDC for short, recently announced their new “Student Loan Repayment Program” which repays loans up to $20,000 for students from the Norton Sound region who finish college with at least a bachelor’s degree, receive their teaching certification, and then return to the area to teach. New teachers are able to qualify for the program after their first year as a full-time teacher.
“We are seeing a high turnover of teachers,” NSEDC Education Employment and Training Director Niaomi Brunette told the Nome Nugget. She explained the “Growing Our Own Teachers” initiative, which was started in 2015. NSEDC allocated $1 million for proposal development and program creation to get kids in their 15 member communities interested in teaching. The loan repayment program is one of the initiative’s first programs, as well as a discretionary grant that provides $40,000 per year to regional nonprofits and schools with projects that help grow teachers.
“These are folks from the region,” said Brunette of grant applicants and those who will be eligible for the loan repayment program. “We want to have them come back and teach at our schools, to help inspire future teachers.”
Despite the high number of teachers departing the area, Nome Public Schools has remained aggressive in their recruiting efforts to fill vital teaching and administrative positions. As of press time, the district had five positions left that they hope to fill before the school year begins: a science teacher at Anvil City Science Academy, an industrial arts instructor at the Nome-Beltz Junior/Senior High School, an Assistant Principal at Nome-Beltz, as well as two elementary school teachers.
Although the departure rate of teachers is unusually high and there are still unfilled positions for next year, things have been worse in the past. For example, going into the 2014 school year, there were still 11 positions left to fill in the month of August.
As the last of large job fairs for teachers wrap up across the nation, Nome Public Schools has a few more chances to search a wider pool of applicants and meet candidates face-to-face. NPS attended a job fair in Texas May 7-8, hoping to succeed in luring a few more Texans up to the tundra. There are several NPS staff members that hail from the Lone Star State.
If the Texas job fair proves unsuccessful to fill the final five positions, the district will continue to use a statewide applicant system that contains a limited list of teachers that they may tap for jobs.