How rural Colorado districts are coping with teacher shortage

By Christopher Osher

THE COLORADO SUN

teve Wilson has spent 35 years in education in rural Colorado, the past 14 as superintendent of the Big Sandy School District that stretches across ranchland in Elbert and El Paso counties.

In his second year as superintendent there, four teachers retired, wiping out more than 132 years of experience. Back then, the vacancies posed no problem. He had about 30 applicants for each position and quickly filled them all.

Last year, when he lost eight of the 36 teachers on his staff, he faced a far different situation. He was lucky to get any interest for critical teaching posts. He didn’t even have a science teacher until his principal recruited the waitress serving her at the Purple Toad Social Tap & Grill in Falcon to come on board.

Wilson and other school administrators in Colorado face a dire situation when it comes to filling teaching vacancies, according to statistics collected by the state, salary surveys and interviews with state and local officials. Teachers, frustrated by low salaries and increasing education mandates, are quitting the profession at a rapid rate, particularly in rural areas. And those defections are projected to worsen, with nearly a third of the state’s teachers becoming eligible for retirement over the next few years. Meanwhile, fewer people are training to be educators.

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