‘It’s a real issue’: Filling teaching, coaching positions ahead of the school year

Eye on KELOLAND
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SOUTH DAKOTA (KELO) – Schools will soon be welcoming back students for another year, but some districts are struggling to fill all their positions, especially for coaching.

The Waverly/South Shore School District just northeast of Watertown has an enrollment of 260 students and several open positions.

“The closer you get to the beginning of the school year, if they aren’t filled, the more stressful it becomes,” Waverly/South Shore superintendent Jon Meyer said.

The school district had over 10 positions open just a few weeks ago. Meyer sent out a letter to address the issue. Since then, around half of those positions have been filled. However, it’s a problem many schools across the state are continuing to face.

“Had to be a little creative. Reached out to colleges and even out-of-state colleges to see if they had some graduates that were looking for employment,” Willow Lake superintendent Chris Lee said.

The Willow Lake School District is similar in size with an enrollment of 313. Almost all of their positions are now filled, but it wasn’t easy — and they’re still haven’t found an assistant volleyball coach.

“We’ll figure something out. Somebody will step up, but it will be towards that last minute, and we’ll see what we have to do,” Lee said.

The problem filling positions is not something only small schools are dealing with. The Hamlin School District has around 900 students — they’re seeing the same issues.

“Right now, we have four coaching openings, mostly at the junior high level. One assistant football. One teaching opening. And it’s a real issue,” Hamlin superintendent Pat Kraning said.

“There’s a lot of unfilled openings that go across not just geographical areas but school sizes. This is probably as many open positions at the end of July as I’ve ever seen,” Kraning said.

In many schools, administrators end up coaching as well.

“How long is that sustainable? I don’t know. That’s the part that concerns me. If I coach junior high boys basketball that year, that’s great, but I’m not a 10-year solution for that problem,” Kraning said.

“Everyone I speak to, the number of applicants continues to decrease each year and that is concerning. To add to that, some of these positions that are open, we just don’t have the college graduates to fill them,” Lee said.

Carter Schmidt: Does the future of the teacher shortage worry you?

Meyer: It does. It absolutely does. We could drop 500 new teachers into the teacher pipeline today, and we’re not going to see those new educators for 4-5 years. So the problem that we have is only going to grow between now and then.

He says it isn’t a problem that can be fixed overnight.

“It’s rapidly becoming less appealing to enter into education. Not because education is not a wonderful wonderful opportunity. It’s a great occupation. It’s a great calling. It’s just looking at the dollars and cents, it’s losing its appeal,” Meyer said.

“It’s something that I think we just have to continually look at to make sure that we’re competitive with other businesses and that’s the important piece,” Lee said.

“I think our problem right now is maybe even a little bit beyond money. I think it’s feeling. I think to have a successful extracurricular activity, people have to feel like their time is value and that they’re respected.”

And there’s a common theme in their ideas for fixing the problem.

“The biggest thing is just continue to support our educators. Continue to let them know that they are appreciated. They are valued,” Meyer said.

“In order for us to keep coaches in, our coaches have to feel like they’re valued and that we have their back, and parents have to feel like we’re working with them to give their students the best opportunity that we can,” Kraning said.

Even if some positions are not filled, these administrators say classes and extracurriculars will go on no matter what.

“We hire a teacher first. The most important thing is to provide a quality education to our students, so it is absolutely paramount that we hire the best teaching candidate first and foremost,” Meyer said.

“If we absolutely can’t find someone, someone’s going to step up to do that. And, you know, if you don’t have those options, you got to have school, so we’re to find one way or another to fill the positions and do the best we can,” Lee said.

Not only is it difficult to staff teaching and coaching positions, but many schools are in continuous need of bus drivers.

To see an in-depth look at the teacher shortage in South Dakota, see this KELOLAND.com Original.

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