Dr. Eucker discusses national teacher shortage, teacher retention, and outlook for STEM

All across the country, school districts are tasked with making some difficult decisions when it comes to the budget, and keeping the doors of a school open during a global pandemic.  The pandemic has caused many parents to make drastic, and quite possibly permanent changes to the way their child’s education is delivered.   Some parents are choosing to home school their children, while others have sent their kids to private schools that provided more educational options compared to other schools that are required to operate under strict guidelines.  For many teachers, the results of the pandemic, among other stresses has caused them to make difficult personal and career choices, that most certainly will impact the classroom.

STEM School Highlands Ranch, is one school among thousands across the country, that is facing the likelihood of a teacher shortage, and the challenge of achieving teacher retention during a world changing pandemic.

According to a recent article published by the University of Denver, “the teacher shortage is real, large and growing, and worse than we thought.”  The article uses data collected from the Economic Policy Institute, which shows that if the current trends persist, the nationwide shortfall of qualified teachers could reach 200,000 by 2025, up from 110,000 in 2018.  The article also provides an equally startling statistic, that overall interest in teaching as a profession has declined, and only half of those who enter the profession remain for more than five years.

Executive Director, Dr. Penny Eucker discussed the trend, and what it means for the school.

“We’ve been addressing it for two years,” said Dr. Eucker.  “It is part of our Strategic Plan.  Our Strategic Plan has five goals, and one goal is Teacher Care.  It is critical.  We have known for years that the pipeline of teachers, especially quality STEM teachers is not what it needs to be.  It is not robust.”

Dr. Eucker also pointed out that at the University of Denver, the school is only producing one math teacher this year, and that Denver Public Schools has claimed that teacher by paying their tuition, as part of an incentive to attract that particular teacher to DPS.

“So, we are in a very competitive pool,” said Dr. Eucker.  “And it is a critical shortage that we have the pulse on and we are wrestling with that impact.”

How is the outlook for STEM School Highlands Ranch?  Dr. Eucker weighed in on that question as well.

“It’s a complex issue that we have been working on,” said Dr. Eucker.  “Colorado is one of the lowest funded school systems in the country.  Depending on what metric you look at, we’re approximately (ranked) 38th out of 50 states for funding.  This has been an issue for a very long time.  If you go North to Wyoming, you get almost twice the funding, and in some states, you get three times the funding.  So, we’re operating under a very restrictive budget for public schools.”

Dr. Eucker says charter schools in particular have to pay for their own facility, while district schools have their facilities long paid for through bonds.  She says it is a low apportionment of public funding available to a school like STEM, and that the school is challenged with paying competitive salaries to attract and retain teachers, while also paying for the facility itself.

“So, it’s a complex problem, but our absolute priority is to make sure that we have competitive salaries, and for us, competitive salaries mean within Douglas County,” she said.  “We can’t compare ourselves to school districts that have different funding, and we can’t compare ourselves to other states.”

To see Dr. Eucker’s full video interview on the topic of teacher retention, click the video below.

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