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Danville tinkers with teacher shortage solution

A teacher's assistant helps a first grade student with her work in a school hallway in October 2020.

DANVILLE — As schools throughout Illinois grapple with teacher shortages, Danville is working out the kinks in a grow-your-own teacher program.

Danville School District 118 has promised to cover class costs for assistant teachers and other staff who want to go back to school to become teachers.

Despite interest from about 20 staff members, just one assistant teacher accepted the district’s offer this fall.

“Yes, the interest may be there, but the time commitment becomes a challenge for people who are set in their ways with family and personal life. I really think it’s the time commitment piece,” says District 118 Human Resources Director Kimberly Pabst.

Graduating the program would mean a significant salary jump for uncertified staff. The starting salary for teachers is more than twice the starting salary for assistant teachers, according to the latest salary chart on the district website.

Pabst is considering how to tweak the district’s initiative to tempt more to sign up. She plans to bring recommendations to the Danville Board of Education soon.

District 118 is paying for the courses with federal COVID-19 relief.

The district has set aside money from the third package of relief, the American Rescue Plan (ARP) Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief fund (ESSER III). That money must be spent by September 2024.

Teacher shortage just as difficult now as before the pandemic

Most superintendents across Illinois see their local teacher shortage getting worse in the future.

Pabst is planning for a surge in retirements over the next two years. She says four certified teachers are retiring this year and 13 are retiring the year after that.

The pandemic hasn’t worsened the teacher shortage in Danville, Pabst says. That’s because the number of students enrolled in District 118 has decreased too.

“What’s interesting is that our enrollment has gone down so much that our vacancies aren’t really different from what we had pre-COVID — at this time. That’s only because our enrollment has gone down drastically,” Pabst says.

A recent survey from the Illinois Association of Regional Superintendents of Schools found that about 77 percent of districts believe that their teacher shortage is getting worse.

Emily Hays is a reporter for Illinois Public Media. Follow her on Twitter @amihatt.

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Emily Hays

Emily Hays

Emily Hays started at WILL in October 2021 after three-plus years in local newsrooms in Virginia and Connecticut. She has won state awards for her housing coverage at Charlottesville Tomorrow and her education reporting at the New Haven Independent. Emily graduated from Yale University where she majored in History and South Asian Studies.

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