Keys Weekly | By Charlotte Twine | March 14, 2022

For the first time in a Monroe County school board meeting, district staff brought up the ‘Great Resignation,’ the nationwide trend of workers in many industries quitting en masse, starting in 2021. And it has hit home in the Keys, with the district unable to fill educator positions in its schools. Staff and board members revealed their struggle to attract viable job candidates and discussed solutions in their March 10 meeting.

Per forbes.com, “The American ‘Big Quit,’ or ‘Great Resignation’ is a post-widespread-vaccination phenomenon that is touching everyone from McDonald’s workers to software engineers. A record 4 million people quit their jobs in April (2021), many of them in low-paid, inflexible industries like retail. … The same thing is starting to happen in higher paid jobs.”

“Hundreds of Thousands Quit Jobs in Florida as ‘Great Resignation’ Continues,” screamed a February 2022 headline on nbcmiami.com.

Harry Russell, the district’s executive director of personnel support and instructional leadership, gave a presentation to board members about his and other staff members’ recent attendance at the National Educator Shortage Summit in Orlando, run by the American Association of School Personnel Administrators. The summit was attended by administrators from across the country to discuss how to find teachers and other necessary employees. He said that staff from Colorado, Nebraska and Rhode Island schools told him they were having the same problem.

Russell pointed out that since the Great Resignation, the district is struggling to find candidates for all kinds of positions, not just teachers. 

“It’s anything involved in education,” he said. “It’s bus drivers, substitutes, parapros (paraprofessionals), cafeteria workers. … The job market is changing right in front of our faces.”

Paraprofessionals are employees who assist educators.

As of March 1, Russell noted, the Monroe County School District has 47 openings. The categories with the most unfilled positions at schools up and down the Keys include teachers, with 11 open positions for the 2022-23 school year, and 17 open paraprofessional positions.

He presented several ideas for solutions, a few of which the district already had in place, such as the Grow Our Own initiative. This is an effort by the district to invest in those who are already employed locally or in the schools. Finding potential job candidates who currently have homes in Monroe County is important, Russell explained, because the high cost of living has been a factor in employees resigning. 

“It wasn’t unique to us, I can tell you that,” he said, pointing out that an administrator in a tourist destination in Colorado told him of dealing with the same challenges.

One incentive from the Grow Our Own effort is to reimburse candidates up to $5,000 for tuition. Other solutions for placing candidates in open positions include salary increases, paying off student loans, day care support, workforce housing, encouraging students to become teachers and a more aggressive nationwide marketing campaign.

Schools Superintendent Theresa Axford struck a positive note. 

“At the beginning of the year we had 150 teacher aides (paraprofessionals),” she said. “And we were trying to encourage them to become teachers. So throughout the year we only had eight takers. But you go out again, and now this time we have 44. So I think that the program is already building.”

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