‘Community experts’ proposed as stopgap to N.D. teacher shortage
BISMARCK – With just a few weeks until school starts and dozens of teaching jobs still open across the state, North Dakota’s teacher licensing agency wants to give school districts the authority to hire “community experts” for the classroom as a stopgap measure.
The Education Standards and Practices Board voted Monday to endorse a proposal that would allow districts having a hard time filling teaching positions to request a one-year hardship waiver.
The waiver would allow the district to hire a local resident who lacks an education degree to teach in his or her area of expertise, such as a pharmacist who could teach chemistry or an experienced farmer who could teach vocational agriculture.
A task force assembled in June by state Superintendent of Public Instruction Kirsten Baesler met earlier Monday and advanced the proposal to the board, which endorsed it unanimously. Minnesota already has a similar community expert program.
Board members will now draft emergency administrative rules on how the waivers will work, while the task force will develop the application form for districts to use, Baesler said.
A survey conducted by the North Dakota Council of Educational Leaders and answered by 129 of the state’s 179 districts revealed 72 open elementary teaching jobs and 102 open high school and middle school positions as of Monday. North Dakota currently has about 10,000 teachers.
Gov. Jack Dalrymple must sign off on the emergency rules, which Baesler hopes will happen within the next two weeks, allowing time for districts to hire community experts before school begins.
Williston Public School District has the earliest start date this year, on Aug. 19. It also had the largest number of teacher openings as of Monday, with 14 spots still unfilled,.
Fargo had 11 teacher openings, while Grand Forks and Dickinson were each trying to fill six spots. Bismarck had three openings and Jamestown had one, for a science teacher.
Williston Superintendent Viola LaFontaine said the district has already been in contact with a woman who has a four-year music degree and substitute taught for the district last year with a provisional license. She hopes to offer the woman a one-year contract as an elementary music teacher if the community expert proposal pans out.
LaFontaine said it would be a positive option for the district, where enrollment has grown by 48 percent in the last six years to about 3,400 students, including 275 new students this fall.
“We would still need to interview and ensure that they’re the right fit,” she said.
For parents who may be concerned about the quality of classroom teachers, Baesler said the waiver application process will require districts to outline exactly what kind of support they plan to provide the community expert in terms of instructional strategies and classroom management.
“Content knowledge is just half of what it takes to be a good teacher,” she said.
Baesler said it’s just the “first necessary step” by the task force, which will meet again in September to keep working on ways to address the teacher shortage in the long term.