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The Effects of the Teacher Shortage on Rural Schools

The Front of Vienna High School's Building
Ethan Holder
Vienna High School

Schools across the country are working tirelessly to help the youth of today thrive, learn, and grow as people. While there may be some issues in the education system, countless teachers have put in many hours to help as many children as possible. However, teachers now come few and far between.

For years a teacher shortage has left many schools understaffed and overworked leading to a struggle to support students. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, eighteen percent of public schools had one teaching vacancy and 27 percent had multiple teaching vacancies as of October 2022.

Many schools across the nation are feeling the effects of the teacher shortage, including rural areas such as Southern Illinois. Over the summer, Dongola Public School made the tough decision to have its freshman and sophomore high school students attend Vienna High School full time.

Dr. Paige Maginel, the superintendent at Dongola Public School, says too many teachers left at once to replace them in time for the next school year.

“Often we have one teacher leave in our high school and we are able to replace that one person. Last year, everything came together and we had four content teachers leave at the same time. That was just too much for us to find in this climate of shortage” Dr. Maginel said.

With the pool of potential teachers being at an all time low, she says Dongola began to reach out to see if they could begin a partnership with another school. Maginel says Vienna volunteered to help in whatever way it could.

“We were putting out feelers for how we could do this and Mr. Stafford very graciously said Vienna would love to have us and I would say the Johnson county community has welcomed us with open arms” Dr. Maginel said.

Josh Stafford, the superintendent of Vienna High School, says while the community still had questions about the arrangement, Johnson county did not hesitate. He says the goal is to help as many children as possible, not only those in his community.

“A lot of people may look at us and go ‘Why in the world do you do that? Should you just be worried about students in Buncombe, Cypress, New Simpson Hill, Vienna Grade school, your 300 square mile 4 county school district?’ Is that really what we should all be worried about?” Stafford said. “I really think our theme here is that we are here to help all kids and all families in the region and in the state.”

Maginel says the Dongola community was on board and active in the process of forming this cohort. She said there was one concern about the arrangement, the long bus rides.

“One of the biggest concerns of the community and parents was the ride. It’s about 25 minutes from our door to Vienna high School. So what would we be doing on the bus? We did make it a point to equip our buses with WiFi so students could do homework or whatever it was they needed to do on the transfer” Maginel said.

Despite this worry, she says the Dongola community had some excitement about the opportunities that VHS could offer. While this is the most recent partnership, this is not Vienna's first. Stafford says Vienna has partnered with multiple schools in the past when they have been short staffed to teach certain subjects.

“There was a season when Cairo High School didn’t have a math instructor. In their entire high school they did not have a single math instructor. We were able to provide their entire math instruction for a season while they went through that. We have partnered and provided drivers ed instruction to other schools, both in class and behind the wheel. It’s just an extensive list of partnerships that ultimately everyone benefits from” Stafford said.

All of the partnerships and assistance that Vienna has been involved in may lead some to believe they have been able to avoid the teacher shortage problem altogether but that is not the case. Stafford says Vienna, like many schools, has still seen a steep decline in how many applicants they get for vacant positions.

“If you were to hunt me down five or six years ago and say ‘Hey Josh, do you think there is going to be a teacher shortage 2023 or 2022 or 2021?’ I would have said no you’re crazy because if we were to post a teaching position at that time we would receive 40 applicants within a week. If you fast forward to 2023, if we post teaching jobs today we are excited to get five applicants” Stafford said.

Vienna still faces struggles, but Stafford says VHS is one of the luckier schools in the state. He says the location of the town being right off interstate 24 has helped to increase its pool of potential teachers.

“Vienna is fortunate geographically. We’re kind of the central part of the southern seven counties and certainly the central part of the southern 14 counties in Illinois. We also have Kentucky which is right across the river. So, we are able to pull from a large geographical region” Stafford said.

The teacher shortage has made it difficult to find teachers, but Stafford says Vienna is committed to finding the best teachers they can. He says teaching is the most important thing anyone can do.

“One of the most important things that is happening in Vienna or Dongola or anywhere else collectively is educating our young people,” Stafford said. “I think that both the Vienna and Dongola communities subscribe to that. They understand what the main thing is when it comes to our schools and that is providing education to our young people in the best way that we can with the most opportunity that we can.”

This vision that Stafford and many school leaders across the country have is being hindered by the lack of personnel to see it through.

To read more about the partnership between Vienna and Dongola, click here.

Ethan Holder is a student contributor for WSIU Public Broadcasting located at Southern Illinois University, Carbondale. Contact WSIU Radio at 618-453-6101 or email wsiunews@wsiu.org
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