School begins today in Nome for grades 1–12, and despite a statewide teacher shortage, all core classroom positions and most supporting positions have been filled.
Nome Public Schools Superintendent Shawn Arnold said that around 260 positions remain unfilled throughout the state, mostly in rural Alaska. In Nome, there are a number of difficulties to filling positions, he says:
“It’s been a struggle. We’ve got a lower enrollment in the University of Alaska’s teacher preparation programs — some of the lowest there in recent memory. We have less applicants coming to the state. We have more teachers who have taught out of state or taught for some time within the state who are leaving and going to teach in the Lower 48.”
Arnold said it’s also a challenge if teachers depart later than the normal hiring season, in March and April, to then fill fall positions.
Arnold said economic conditions in the Lower 48 have improved more quickly than those in Alaska, and that as a result, Alaska teaching positions are not as competitive as they were in the past.
Around 20 years ago, Alaska positions actually offered some of the highest salaries in the United States, but salaries have not increased along with cost of living as much as they have in the Lower 48.
The upshot, Arnold said, is that teachers mostly come here because they want to, and that most of the hiring comes from within the state:
“We want people who want to be here. We want teachers who want to be in Alaska, and want to make a commitment, and are knowledgeable, too, about the region and about Nome Public Schools and about what it would be like. So we don’t want to hire someone who’s just looking for a job.”
The positions still unfilled include a junior high counselor, special education teacher, and teacher at the Nome Youth Facility. Arnold said the state budget’s release in June meant hiring for the last position had to be delayed, resulting in a shallower pool of applicants.
Photo at top: Marjorie Tahbone teaches an Inupiaq class at Nome-Beltz High School in 2014. Photo: KNOM, 2014.