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School districts become more creative to fill teaching shortages

Omaha Central High School
Posted at 10:23 PM, Jun 06, 2022

OMAHA, Neb. — They say you can't put a price on good help. It's a phrase that's proving true here.

"Finding teachers has been more and more difficult," said Charles Wakefield, of Omaha Public Schools.

Just like districts around the country, Wakefield is having a hard time hiring enough teachers for Nebraska's largest school district.

"We're constantly replacing those who retire and those who grow. We also have teachers who grow into other positions, teachers who become principals, teachers who become superintendents," said Wakefield.

Wakefield says in normal years they have between an eight to 11% turnover rate, but it's been higher during the pandemic. Estimates from the Learning Policy Institute show by 2025 we may need to hire more than 300,000 teachers a year to combat teacher supply issues.

In Omaha, the district has been using creative methods to try and retain teachers and build a pipeline of new teachers coming in.

"It was really life-changing in a sense. I was like, yes, this is what I want to do. I want to teach," said AJ Gullie.

Gullie is an Omaha Public Schools alumni and found his passion for teaching while he was still in high school.

He participated in the district's Educator's Rising program which lets high school students get hands-on experience while still in school.

"We just go right up there during that class block and just read to some of the kids work with them on some bell work that they had or things along the lines of that, just to get the chance of that classroom situation,"

Now Aj's finished his first year of student teaching and will be starting as a full-time teacher next fall.

Just as difficult as attracting new talent, retaining it.

"I just got accepted into LAUNCH which is a leadership program for OPS. So through the program, I'm going to be learning all the different leadership opportunities that school has," said Fabricio Hernandez.

Hernandez is an elementary school teacher for the district and also an OPS product. To try and keep him and other good teachers the district offers leadership training to give teachers a path for career advancement.

The district is also offering a $9,000 stipend for previously unpaid student teachers. Charles is hopeful this overall approach will pay dividends in the long run.

"These are great programs and while they will take time to yield good results, we are already starting to see some of those results as we go. We doubled the number of student teachers next fall based just on paying that stipend,"

The hope is those number increases will lead to more Fabricios and AJs who are here for the long haul.

"It's something that just calls to you after you leave. No one really leaves OPS for too long after they graduate. There's always something calling you back," said Gullie.