State schools

Hiring and Retaining K-12 Teachers: Washington State Schools Fight Shortage

The US Department of Education said school districts have long struggled to hire enough specialist teachers and the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the shortage.

REDMOND, Wash. — The 2021-2022 school year could have been Freedom Schott’s last year teaching in Washington state’s K-12 public school system.

Many teachers she knew in various districts called her over the past two years, largely due to burnout from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Schott was considering his next best career choice while still feeling a strong passion for education.

“I also want to give children the best of me as an educator,” Schott said.

The four-year-old special education teacher hasn’t left the classroom after teaching for three years in the Lake Washington School District (LWSD) and then a year in the Renton School District.

Instead, Schott is setting up two classrooms for the 2022-2023 school year — one at Alcott Elementary and the other at Einstein Elementary in the LWSD.

Schott said splitting her time between two schools as a safety net teacher is a welcome change of pace. This is one of the main reasons why she is still a teacher.

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“I want to make sure that I’m always serving the kids,” Schott said. “My children learn from what I do for them, and if I lose that passion, I don’t want that to affect the students as well.”

In her role as a safety net teacher, Schott focuses on students’ reading and writing skills.

Retaining teachers like Schott is a challenge in Washington state and across the country.

The U.S. Department of Education reports that demand for teachers in special education, technology, bilingual education, and math has been steady, but the COVID-19 pandemic has not exacerbate the shortage and intensify the competition to recruit teachers.

On August 31, US Secretary of Labor Martin Walsh and US Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona sent a joint letter to education and workforce leaders with an outline of three recommendations to address the teacher shortage. The letter includes information on establishing high-quality paid learning programs, the benefits of increasing partnerships with the workforce and education systems, and ensuring teachers receive a decent salary and competitive.

Camille Alexander, LWSD’s executive director of human resources, said those recommendations are already part of the district’s recruiting strategy.

In addition to recruiting at traditional job fairs and using social media, the district advertises in its school districts.

“It was also very efficient in terms of teachers, but also classified positions and even bus drivers,” explained Alexander. “People want to be part of the fabric of their community, and sometimes school isn’t the first way to think about that.”

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The district doesn’t have a “formal” learning program, but Alexander said the district has university partnerships to build working relationships with future educators.

In terms of salaries, Alexander said a first-year teacher with no previous experience typically starts at around $56,000, and some teachers with several years of experience and an advanced degree like a master’s or doctoral degree might win up to $105,000. All salaries vary based on these aspects, according to Alexander, who said there are also allowances and cost-of-living adjustments to consider.

“Everyone got a 5.5% raise and similar benefits,” Alexander said.

The LWSD is the second largest school district in the state and serves Kirkland, Redmond and Sammamish.

As of the first day of school on September 6, the LWSD had 31,467 K-12 students enrolled. So far, the district has 2,202 teachers hired for the 2022-23 school year.

Both numbers are expected to rise in the coming days and weeks as families potentially move into the district and existing open teaching positions are filled.

According to LWSD Online Job Pagefrom the first week of school, there is open positions for teachers, but also for school support staff, school support staff, bus drivers, sportsmen, janitors and office staff.

Puget Sound Area Teacher Recruitment

In Snohomish County, the Everett School District employs about 1,200 teachers each year when it is full, according to Dr. Chad Golden, the district’s executive director of human resources.

By the first week of September, 20,238 students were enrolled in the district. It’s the 12th largest arrondissement in the state.

Golden said the district is doing a variety of things to attract new teachers while working to retain current staff.

According to Golden, one of the most exciting and promising parts of the district’s strategy is using a $100,000 Recruit Washington Teachers grant.

Like the Lake Washington School District, Golden said schools in Everett also aim to build community within the district.

In this part of its recruitment plan, the district is focusing on students enrolled in the Introduction to Education High School course. There are currently 44 students enrolled. Golden said the district encourages its own students to not only consider careers in education, but to use their talents to teach prospective students at the schools they attended.

“Three students are applying for positions,” Golden said.

A few students shared that they would substitute in the district while attending Everett Community College.

The Everett School District has seen a steady average of openings of about 123 teaching positions each school year for the past five years.

Golden said these positions are filled on the first day of school or a few weeks after the first day back.

Everett School District Teaching Positions at a Glance:

  • 2018-19 = 139
  • 2019-20 = 155
  • 2020-21=110
  • 2021-22=124
  • 2022-23=91

First-year teachers with no previous experience start at over $64,000. Teachers with experience and bachelor’s and master’s degrees can earn upwards of $135,800.

Golden said the district held a successful job fair Aug. 17, with several people hired on the spot. The district uses social media to advertise openings and has a notice board during Aqua Sox games.

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