5 Challenges Education Leaders Will Face in the 2017-18 School Year

Human Resources


Every school year comes with its own unique challenges, experiences and opportunities — all of which weaves a story of perseverance, community and success. There’s no question about it — working in education is rewarding, but it certainly isn’t easy.

With back-to-school season right around the corner, are you ready to tackle the coming year’s challenges head-on? Read on to see the top five challenges school districts will face over the next year, and see our suggestions for how to overcome them.

#1: Funding and Compliance Uncertainties

Budgeting in K-12 is never easy, but over the coming year it will likely be even more difficult as education funding faces an unpredictable and uncertain future. Funding has gotten tighter and tighter over the years, and that trend is unlikely to reverse on its own.

“The greatest challenge for all districts is being able to fund, maintain and preserve all our programs and services, faculty and staff. That's the biggest challenge. State aid is at an all-time low, and we're asked to do more with less. Districts now are looking towards alternate funding sources, whether it's through grant writing, corporate sponsorship or a whole series of other things to supplement the budget.” – David Healy, Superintendent, Toms River School District

In addition, the government’s proposed budget — including $10.6 billion in cuts to federal education initiatives — would make it more challenging than ever to find funding for the programs and services needed to support student achievement. While it’s true that the final budget will likely look drastically different than what was initially suggested, these proposals may set the tone for what’s to come for K-12 funding over the next several years. Namely, that public education will have to continue operating with even less — and find innovative ways to avoid costly inefficiencies without impacting students or staff.
 
“[Budget challenges] create an even greater challenge of retaining staff and teachers. Some of them are getting discouraged because of the challenges that we're facing. When you have budget challenges within a school district, what happens is typically you have increases in class sizes, and then you have to reduce things that are what would be considered non-essentials.” – David Healy

Depending on your district’s unique situation, you may be able to find cost-savings by:

#2: Ongoing Teacher Shortages

It’s every administrator’s hope that every vacancy will be filled on the first day of school. But with last-minute enrollment changes and unexpected resignations, it’s possible that some positions will remain unfilled. And with the ever-present teacher shortage continuing to stymie education leaders, it could be difficult to fill these vacancies with top candidates. Even without last-minute vacancies, the teacher shortage may make it even more difficult to build applicant pools for the next hiring season, particularly for STEM, special education and highly-specialized positions.

“One of the biggest challenges we face in staffing is finding qualified applicants coming out of schools, especially in the areas of math and science and special education. It just doesn’t seem that the colleges are producing as many certified teachers as we need for those 3 in particular areas.” – Ozzie Ahl, Principal, Rocky Hill Public School District

For the 2017-18 school year, it will be more important than ever for districts to focus on mitigating the impact of the teacher shortage by hiring early, building deep, diverse candidate pools and bolstering applicant pipelines.

Here are a few strategies for tackling the teacher shortage head-on to make the 2018 hiring season far less stressful:
  • Recruit top applicants proactively and continue to expand your recruiting reach through platforms like social media and online job boards
  • Maybe add one about building a district reputation and better marketing your district – could link to marketing your district white paper
  • Identify and minimize inefficiencies or delays in the hiring process with the help of applicant tracking systems
  • Anything about identifying what the delays / inefficiencies were in onboarding this summer and improve for next year? 

“One of the national trends that we have been very conscious of, and bracing for, is that Baby Boomers are supposed to be leaving our profession in droves soon. Unfortunately, the colleges and universities can't keep up with the demand… I'm hoping that the electronic processes that we have now available to us will help us mitigate those problems.” – Rebecca Partlowe, Chief Personnel Officer, Rock Hill Schools

#3: Teacher Turnover

Recruiting more educators isn’t enough to shield a district from the effects of the teacher shortage — the focus must also be on retaining exemplary educators and reducing burnout, particularly amongst newer teachers. Otherwise, you may find yourself stuck in a disheartening cycle of “recruit, hire and replace.”
 
“It’s a very stressful time to be in public education. It’s very stressful to be a teacher because the expectations of our teachers are higher than ever; therefore, we’re seeing more absences and we’re seeing more turnover. People are looking to get a raise that they might not get at their own school district and so they will look to other opportunities in other school districts in order to meet their needs.” – Christine Hedstrom, Assistant Superintendent of HR, Waukesha School District

Make it a goal to decrease employee turnover in the long term by setting your newest employees up for long-lasting success in your district with a stress-free, supportive onboarding strategy that lets them focus on instruction, instead of struggling to get up to speed.

Then, ensure that the professional learning opportunities available to your teachers are relevant to their needs. Supporting educators with impactful, just-in-time learning will help keep them engaged throughout the year, continually improve instruction and improve morale.

All of this will help prevent turnover and burnout in your educators, but remember not to stop there. Gallup found that only 29% of teachers strongly agree with the statement, "In the last seven days, I have received recognition or praise for doing good work." To counteract this, nurture a supportive, vibrant school culture and find ways to recognize and reward educators for their hard work throughout the year. This doesn’t fall only to school-level leaders — everyone across the district can help keep maintain high staff morale.

#4: Substitute Teacher Shortages

Another ongoing issue plaguing districts across the country is the lack of substitutes available to fill in for absent employees when needed. And this problem isn’t only found in the classroom — many districts report newfound difficulties finding substitute bus drivers as well.

There are plenty of possible reasons why substitutes are scarce: substitute teaching may not be perceived as a desirable job, education graduates may be finding their first full-time job sooner due to teacher shortages, substitute wages aren’t competitive, or low unemployment rates mean that fewer substitutes are available for more teachers.

“The challenges we face with substitute management are actually quite new in our entire district, and it's a bit of a surprise… It's not that people don't want to work for us — we've always been blessed in that way — there just aren't the people. In the state of Pennsylvania, certifications for new teachers have gone from about 16,000 to 6,000 being processed, so there's been a huge loss to the candidate pool. We're doing everything we can to really make things easy and make our district as accessible as possible so that substitutes want to come work for us, because we are all vying for that same small group.” – Lindsay Pfister, Director of HR, West Jefferson Hills School District
No matter the reason for the shortages, districts may find themselves forced to accept unprepared or inexperienced substitutes. This means that district leaders must be extra careful to recruit new substitutes for the 2017-18 school year and ensure that they are ready for the classroom. It’s not enough for a substitute to pass a background check and be hired; you have to be confident that they can effectively manage a classroom without incident. Training substitutes can help your district stay compliant and attract new substitutes — a win-win for everybody.

#5: Higher Special Populations Enrollment

Over the past several years, school districts have seen increases in special ed enrollment and a growing population of English language learners. These trends are likely to continue for the 2017-18 school year, driving a greater focus on developing, evaluating and improving the programs and services offered to these special populations.

However, when it comes to finding qualified candidates to support these programs and services, many districts are finding that the applicant pool has not kept pace. A widespread special education teacher shortage pits districts against each other, all vying for a limited pool of qualified candidates. But the challenges don’t stop at staffing: the amount of administrative work associated with special programs is staggering, and contributes to high turnover.

“Our biggest challenge in the hiring process right now is recruiting minorities, bilingual teachers and English Second Language teachers.” – Lori Hudson, Recruiter/Mentor Coordinator, Indian River School District

To continue providing high-quality services to these students, it’s crucial that district leaders:

What do you think is the biggest challenge facing your district this year? How do you plan on overcoming it? Share with us on Twitter @FrontlineEdu

About Annie Grunwell

Education Writer

Annie is a Content Marketing Specialist at Frontline Education with a deep and abiding love of learning, writing, and sharing knowledge.