USD 259: Pilot program helps Wichita fight statewide teacher shortage

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A teacher shortage in Kansas is leading to worries kids might be educated by "unqualified" people. The Wichita School District says that is not necessarily true, but the shortage is a problem.

"When there's less kids, there's less going on," said elementary school teacher Ali Latimer. "There's less different personalities to be getting to know, and all of that affects how we're able to teach them."

Ali Latimer is a teacher at Cloud Elementary in Wichita, and she said small classroom sizes help her connect with her students. The Wichita School District says one of the best ways to keep class sizes small is to hire enough teachers. While Wichita had better hiring numbers in 2019 than it's had in the last five years, the state of Kansas is 815 teachers short. The majority of the open positions are in western Kansas, where rural districts are having trouble keeping teachers around.

Pilot programs like the Teacher Apprentice Program are helping fill those gaps. The program helps paraeducators become licensed teachers by taking a non-traditional route to certification.

"Those pilots were available to all school systems in Kansas," said Mischel Miller, Director of Teacher Licensure and Accreditation with the Kansas Department of Education. "Wichita just really got on the ball and promoted those and worked really hard to get those candidates at those positions."

Miller said at least one of those pilot programs, which is responsible for a large number of new teachers in Wichita, may continue. The programs are currently under review.

"I do think there will be a recommendation for continuing on with some of the special education opportunities," Miller said. 

Walking around the hallways of Cloud Elementary, it's apparent the kids are hard at work and getting the attention they need. The teachers who spoke with KAKE News said they want to make sure it stays that way in Wichita.

"I think they're really awesome ways for people who aren't able to go the traditional route," Latimer said. "I think without it, we wouldn't have enough teachers."

The Wichita School District echoes those feelings. Chief Human Resources Officer for USD 259, Shannon Krysl, said the district would have around a 30 percent higher teacher shortage. That's compared to Wichita's current shortage around five percent.

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