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State- and district-level solutions under discussion to address teacher shortages in Nevada

A dais of school trustees is seated toward the front of a room with a standing room-only crowd facing toward them. A woman in a pink shirt is standing in front of the audience and presenting to the school trustees.
Jose Davila IV
KUNR Public Radio
A standing room-only crowd listens to a presentation on possibly moving to a four-day school week at an Elko County school board meeting on Aug. 23, 2022, in Elko, Nev.

This story is part two of a two-part feature on teacher shortages in Nevada. Listen to part one here.

The Nevada State Education Association estimates there are more than 2,700 unfilled teacher positions in the state. The Elko County School District, for example, is struggling to fill 82 positions. Some proposed solutions include increasing salaries or moving to a four-day school week.

Grammar #2 Elementary School in Elko is the smallest in town, and chronic shortages have left first-grade teacher Tonya Spencer burned out. She’s proposing the district move to a four-day week to address the issue.

“Is it the best solution right now, in our crisis that probably will not end for, if we’re lucky, it’ll be over in a decade?” Spencer questioned. “I mean, obviously, I can’t predict the future.”

The Nevada State Education Association says raising salaries should also be on the table because inflation isn’t keeping up with the last increase in 2019. Spencer says that would help – but she doesn’t think it will solve the problem now.

“Right now, to keep teachers and to recruit teachers, this may be our only option. Even with a pay raise, you still are going to get burned out,” she said.

All of the district’s schools outside of Elko and Spring Creek are already operating on four-day weeks.

Mountain View Elementary School first-grade teacher Louri Lesbo says student and teacher absences tend to be higher on Fridays, and she would welcome the extra time to prepare lesson plans.

“Well, with no preps and extra kids and no time to collaborate with our colleagues, it just continues to pile on,” Lesbo shared. “We have to do all of our duties that we would normally do on our prep after hours, and it’s draining because we are spending all of these extra hours.”

Still, some Elko County School District trustees expressed concerns about how the proposal could impact parents, and teachers and administrators conceded that it’s not a silver bullet. Others in the teacher shortage debate are looking for more long-term solutions, starting with college students.

“Being able to recruit someone into wanting to be a teacher in the first place is not a role higher education is used to playing,” said Jessica Todtman about the existing educator pipeline. Todtman is the former Nevada deputy superintendent for educator effectiveness and family engagement.

“They’re used to receiving students who are interested in higher education who have already determined that they want to be a teacher and helping them through that path,” she explained. “And so, our traditional methods don’t seem to be working, especially in the face of an increasing educator shortage.”

The state now has a curriculum for districts to launch Teach and Train programs through their Career and Technical Education departments. They introduce teaching as a career option as early as freshman year in high school, and Todtman says over 50 schools have adopted the curriculum.

Another program that’s getting teachers into the classroom is underway at Great Basin College, Nevada’s only rural higher education institution.

“We try really hard with our Alternative Route program to service the needs of the district,” said Denise Padilla, chair of GBC’s education department.

The three-year ARL program is for prospective teachers that already have a bachelor’s degree and an offer of employment from a school district. In addition to studying, students are placed in a rural district with a temporary ARL license, and the district finds mentors for them with the goal of keeping them in the profession.

“So we have a lot of conversations back and forth until they find a good fit for them, a good fit for the student. [It’s] the best way we can help them to get their coursework and their license so that those kids have a teacher,” explained Padilla about GBC’s relationship with Nevada’s school districts. 

Padilla has also provided some additional training for long-term substitutes this year, further reducing the workload of more seasoned teachers that are already stretched thin.

More relief may come during next year’s legislative session as 50 bill requests have been submitted concerning education - including one from Clark County School District. It seeks to raise wages and improve working conditions. A state interim education committee also hopes to create an advisory body focusing on the well-being of teachers.

Jose Davila IV is a corps member for Report for America, an initiative of the GroundTruth Project.

Produced with assistance from the Public Media Journalists Association Editor Corps funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American people.

Jose Davila IV reports on K-12 education with a focus on Latino students and families in Northern Nevada and the Eastern Sierra. He is also a first-year Report for America corps member. Es bilingüe, su familia es de Puerto Rico, y ama los tostones de su padre más que nada.
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