Vying to fill vacancies

UIS and District 186 receive grants to help address teacher shortages

A teacher shortage and a waning interest in teaching as a profession are both being addressed locally by two major grants. The Teacher Vacancy Grant pilot program provides resources to attract, hire, support and retain teachers in the state's most understaffed districts, and the Grow Your Own grant awarded to University of Illinois Springfield's School of Education provides up to 15 forgivable loans to junior and senior teacher candidates who plan to teach in Springfield or Decatur for a minimum of five years.

Springfield Public Schools District 186 has not had the number of open teaching positions that other districts have seen due to teachers agreeing to teach extra classes to fill in the gaps. That is not an ideal situation, but it helped the vacancy problem in the short-term. Thirteen additional teachers were needed in the 2023-2024 school year, much less than the nearly 60 that were needed the prior year. However, the need for more teachers still exists.

According to a UIS press release, the $145,000 GYO grant, Future Ready Teaching: Thinking Critically, Acting Boldly and Inspiring Brilliance, aims to assist the School of Education in developing a consortium to address teacher shortages in central Illinois. Partner institutions include UIS, Richland Community College, Springfield Public Schools District 186, Decatur Public Schools, Springfield Urban League and a union in Decatur that represents paraprofessionals.

click to enlarge Vying to fill vacancies
UIS School of Education alumna Katherine Lounsberry in a classroom at Dubouis Elementary School on May 11, 2021.

The grant was developed along with consortium partners and co-authored by Beth Hatt, director of the UIS School of Education; Pamela Hoff, UIS distinguished professor of policy and equity; and Ryan Williams, assistant director of strategic initiatives for the UIS School of Education.

Jennifer Gill, superintendent of District 186, said, "We have had students in our district become teachers and return here. That is what we hope to grow." This year has been a planning year, with implementation set for this fall.

Arwah Franklin, assistant director of human resources in District 186 and a member of the planning team, said, "Many of the candidates are already employed in the districts as paraprofessionals. Some already have 60 college credit hours so they would come in as a junior or senior."

Hatt explained the wraparound services participating students will receive from the grant funds. "Candidates will receive a stipend to help with child care, housing, transportation and meals, and access to technology resources. As part of the preparation for the program, students will participate in a summer program to orient them to the campus, meet other candidates and establish relationships with personnel in the School of Education."

The grant is renewable annually, depending on fund availability, and is supported by an appropriation from the Illinois General Assembly.

The Teacher Vacancy Grant, awarded to District 186, provides $298,600 for each of three years to help fund student teachers, recruit new teachers and assist current teachers who accept student teachers.

The grant allowed the district to give a $500 bonus to 50 first-year teachers and 26 second-year teachers this school year. Cooperating teachers – those who accept having a student teacher – were given $1,000 upon the completion of the student teacher's semester work. The grant also allowed some first-year teachers who demonstrated financial need financial assistance in securing an apartment.

Franklin explained why bonuses and other forms of payments are helpful when attracting educators to your district. "I go on many recruitment trips, and one time while recruiting at Missouri State University, I had set up my table near a man from the Kansas City, Missouri, district. He was handing out a form offering $8,000 to any person who came to that district to student teach. We certainly didn't offer anything like that. So, this grant will help us attract student teachers and new teachers."

The Teacher Vacancy Grant pilot program has already been successful. At the beginning of the 2023-2024 school year, 97 teachers were recruited to Springfield Public Schools District 186.

Cinda Ackerman Klickna is a former Springfield Public Schools District 186 teacher.

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