5 Challenges Education Leaders Will Face in the 2017-18 School Year
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.
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.
Depending on your district’s unique situation, you may be able to find cost-savings by:
- Eliminating payroll errors and gaining insight into employee hours with electronic time tracking
- Reducing the amount spent on substitute wages by strategically managing professionally-related absences
- Focusing your employee recruitment efforts on the most cost-effective channels
- Moving from expensive, in-person professional development workshops to an online model
- Maximizing Medicaid reimbursement opportunities
#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.
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.”
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.
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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.
To continue providing high-quality services to these students, it’s crucial that district leaders:
- Develop a strategy specifically focused on attracting and retaining special ed teachers and support personnel
- Maximize Medicaid reimbursement opportunities effectively
- Leverage technology to alleviate the administrative burden associated with these programs
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