By Jasmine Hall
Wyoming Tribune Eagle
Via- Wyoming News Exchange
CHEYENNE — The Wyoming Department of Education and Wyoming Professional Teaching Standards Board announced Monday the creation of a Teacher Retention and Recruitment Task Force.
The task force is designed as a follow-up to the establishment of the Wyoming Teacher Apprenticeship program last fall, and state agencies are looking for task force members. The mission of the group will be to develop recommendations for state policymakers, as well as district-level and school-level staff, to increase efforts to positively impact the education workforce.
“With the Wyoming Teacher Apprenticeship up and rolling, the WDE is very excited to shift focus into the Teacher Retention and Recruitment Task Force and work directly with stakeholders from around the state on this critical issue,” said WDE Communications Director Linda Finnerty.
Both the WDE and PTSB will accept applications for the task force through Jan. 20 at form.jotform. com/222405435538151. The task force will be comprised of up to three district superintendents, three principals, 10 teachers, one parent, one teacher who has left the profession, one personnel director, one school counselor and one post-secondary representative.
Those applying will need to be available for an initial in-person meeting on Feb. 11 in Casper, followed by monthly meetings held in person on the second Saturday of each month through May. Additional virtual meetings will be scheduled as needed, and applicants will be notified of their selection status by Feb. 1.
Education organizations, such as the Wyoming School Boards Association and the Wyoming Education Association, expressed support for the initiative Monday afternoon.
WSBA Executive Director Brian Farmer told the Wyoming Tribune Eagle that he was excited the new Department of Education administration is starting the task force. He said it is a nationwide issue that Superintendent of Public Instruction Megan Degenfelder will need to catch up on, and he hopes this initiative is a step forward and not just covering ground already addressed.
“We’re definitely looking forward to participation from school board members, from parents and community members, to find some ways that we can address the challenges that Wyoming is facing,” he said. “Superintendent (Brian) Schroeder did make some efforts during his time with regard to this, and hopefully the department will make sure that the new superintendent is up to speed.”
Farmer said teacher recruitment and retention is not just a matter of getting the word out about job opportunities but requires taking a look at “the very nature of the teaching profession today.”
He believes education stakeholders need to evaluate what the challenges are and how to make the profession desirable to the younger generation. This connects to compensation, incentivizing the profession, teacher preparation and even housing.
“We have lost our buying power. Wyoming has not kept up with the costs of inflation. There’s an impact there,” he said. “That’s something we need to continue to look to address. It’s very disappointing that the Legislature is not moving forward with the external cost adjustment that was recommended by the Joint Education Committee or the governor. The Joint Appropriations Committee has not done that.”
In order to find meaningful solutions, he said, stakeholders from all areas will have to come together. He said the task force can be a way to identify multiple strategies and make the public aware of what the education agencies are working on, which will help to make the state a “great place for teaching and learning in the future.”
The Wyoming Education Association also applauded WDE and PTSB in their call for a task force, and President Grady Hutcherson said it will provide valuable insight for educators to help solve the employee shortage. He told the WTE that teachers are experts in their field and can provide unique perspectives into the needs of their students and schools.
“Our public schools are hurting. Teachers are reporting low levels of job satisfaction, low levels of respect from their communities, and low levels of perceived support from state officials and lawmakers,” Hutcherson said in a prepared statement. “Too many demands on their time, too much stress, too little respect and stalling compensation—it’s all culminating in forcing educators to reevaluate their chosen careers.”
He referenced a study of WEA’s members, completed by University of Wyoming researcher Mark Perkins in March, which included more than 700 teachers. It indicated that more than 65% of teachers would leave the profession if they could for financial or other reasons. There were also reports that 12% of the teachers were leaving the profession at the end of the school year.
Hutcherson said at both the state and national levels, the number of aspiring teachers pursuing degrees in education and entering the field doesn’t meet the current needs. He said it is past time to identify and solve the problems plaguing teacher retention and recruitment, and the task force is important.
However, he said the state has already identified problems with school funding and educator workload that stakeholders can work toward solving now. The WEA president is optimistic that they can work with state lawmakers to craft good policies that protect and benefit Wyoming students, educators and public schools as they look forward to the start of the 2023 general session.
“A highly qualified teacher is the most important factor in ensuring educational success and achieving positive student outcomes,” he said. “When our state fails to recruit or retain high-quality educators, ultimately, it’s our students who suffer.”