Despite the COVID-19 pandemic wreaking havoc on the last school year, the Lower Kuskokwim School District has fewer teachers leaving this year than in the recent past.
Teacher turnover is nothing new in the Lower Kuskokwim School District. In recent years, the district has made efforts to develop teachers from within the region to try to reduce turnover. This year, the district dealt with a new challenge: the COVID-19 pandemic, which shut down in-person learning for most of the school year. Despite the pandemic, or perhaps because of it, more teachers than usual are deciding to stick around for another school year.
In the last three years, an average of 89 teachers left per year. According to LKSD Human Resources Director Andrea Engbretsen, that number is down to 71 teachers who are leaving after the semester ends this year, which is a 20% drop. Engbretsen said that the reasons for the decline are not clear yet, but she has a guess.
“I think they're hopeful for the coming year, and they still are wanting to experience the delta,” Engbretsen said.
She said that new teachers, who often only stay for a short period, may be deciding to stay an extra year because they feel they didn’t really get to try teaching in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta under normal circumstances. Engbretsen said that the district has already filled 22 of the open teaching positions this year and has 49 jobs left to fill.
“We do have areas, some pockets that are always challenging, pandemic or not, such as math and special ed,” Engbretsen said.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, LKSD used to recruit teachers through in-person career fairs. Then last year, LKSD and other school districts started recruiting teachers virtually.
“A year ago, the system of virtual fairs wasn't quite up and going yet. So there were some challenges. Fairs were just being canceled,” Engbretsen said.
This year, the system of virtual career fairs is going smoother. In fact, she said that there are some advantages to virtual recruiting compared to in person.
“This year, we've been able to sometimes attend multiple fairs in a day. That wouldn't have been able to happen when we were traveling from place to place,” Engbretsen said.
She and her staff have been able to attend over 100 virtual career fairs this year, and she said that recruiting may stay virtual to some degree after the pandemic as well. Engbretsen said that the district’s focus remains on quality of teachers, not quantity. She said that each hire is screened through three separate interviews.