St. Paul schools, like many districts, struggling to find teachers

With the new school year around the corner, some districts are having a challenging time filling teaching positions. It’s becoming a national trend, and now one of Minnesota's largest school districts is taking steps to recruit and retain its workforce.

Less than a month before the start of the new school year hiring season is well underway in the St. Paul Public School District.

"Right now, we are currently hiring for 122 educators," says Danaya Franke, the assistant director of recruitment and retention at SPPS.  

Franke, Daveanna Tarpeh, Lyle Dandridge and Anny Xiong make up the district’s new recruitment and retention team. "So we recognized several months ago that there was a gap in the system," Franke added. 

With a focus on educators of color, the initiative comes amid a nationwide shortage of teachers. It's an issue made worse since the start of the pandemic. Xiong, who serves as a recruitment diversity specialist for the district says, "The challenge is finding candidates. It’s really tough with the teaching profession." 

"Our highest need right now are teachers in special education, as well as EL teachers and in a strange way, physical-ed teachers have become an opening that is needed right now," Franke added,

When asked what he believes is driving people away from education, Dandridge, who is the retention specialist says, "The profession is undervalued, and for teachers of color, a lot of the time the conversation is about the climate right, in their schools. And just acknowledging that the experience of a teacher of color in a classroom is different than someone who is not a teacher of color."

As the state’s second-largest district, more than 35,000 students attend St. Paul Public Schools. More than 80% are students of color. Of its staff, 20% are teachers of color. Tarpeh, a recruitment diversity specialist for SPPS says, "We’re going to see results within the next two years." 

The group added that one approach to recruiting is starting young. " We’re looking at individuals who are in college and reaching out to different institutions not just in Minnesota but across the United States," says Tarpeh.

The districts say that in just the past few weeks more than 115 educators have been hired. 

"I know that the people I work with are like-minded and supportive and a really good team, so it gives me hope that we can actually change something," Dandridge said.

And the group says that they are just getting started. "I hope that people understand that we need really, really good people in front of our kids to make a change in the world," says Franke.

The St. Paul Public School District's new recruiting and retention team is being funded in part by the American Rescue Plan. For more information about current job opportunities, click here.