International teachers’ winding road to Nome’s schools
Five international teachers were set to begin the 2023 school year at Nome Public Schools, but three months later their arrival date is estimated for December, pending the approval of H1-B visas.
The process of bringing the teachers to Nome began in late summer. Nome Public Schools paid a fee to expedite the visas, Superintendent Jamie Burgess said “which cracks me up because it’s kinda slow, we’re learning it’s at least a six month process.” Now, three of the five visas are approved but there’s still paperwork those individuals have to do on their end with their home countries that can hinder arrival in the U.S., according to Burgess.
Nome Elementary School is suffering the most from short staffing as most of the incoming international teachers will hold positions in elementary classrooms. Right now, they’re getting by with a combination of long-term substitute teachers, reassigning staff to teacher positions and merging classrooms.
“We’re making do, but it’s not ideal. We’re very hopeful that we’ll get these folks here,” Burgess said.
Nome is one of many Alaska school districts off the road system that have had to search beyond the U.S. for teachers. One third of Bering Straits School District’s teachers come from the Philippines. Dillingham School District is currently experiencing a similar situation as Nome, waiting on teachers from the Philippines who were set to arrive in September, as reported by KDLG.
This is the first year that the Nome school district has sought out international teachers. Candidates were discovered through an agency, iTeach America LLC, which places international teachers in 35 states according to their website. Nome will welcome one teacher from Kenya and four from the Philippines.
“We don’t have a lot of history hiring international applicants. There was some hesitancy about going down this route but we got to the point where we didn’t really have much choice,” Burgess said.
As far as cost for the NPS teachers goes, Burgess said it won’t be much more than what the district pays for teachers to relocate to Nome. The process costs approximately $6,500 per teacher, including the visa fee and lawyers which are paid for by the school district. Everything else to do with relocation will be paid for by the teachers themselves.
“It’s a significant investment on both sides,” Burgess told the Nugget. An investment in the future. With a high teacher turnover rate, the district is looking for more stability. The H1-B visas allow international teachers to work in the district for six years. After the visa period ends, they can apply for permanent residency.
Last month in a special meeting, the BSSD school board voted against paying seven $25,000 fees for teachers from the Philippines to begin their H1-B visa process for the 2025 school year. While BSSD would pay the $175,000 upfront, the teachers would repay the fee through their payroll once they began working in the district. BSSD Superintendent Susan Nedza emphasized in the meeting the importance of starting the process now, to ensure the teachers would be present for the 2025 school year. The board voted to revisit the issue in their December 11 meeting.