State’s teacher shortage affecting Aurora-area school districts, too

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AURORA | That Colorado is suffering from a teacher shortage is no secret to any local education wonk, though how local school districts are addressing the problem continues to differ.

The number of qualified teachers graduating from Colorado institutions of higher education has been slashed by nearly 25 percent in the past six years, with the number of people finishing teacher preparation programs dropping another 2.2 percent last year, according to a new report from the Colorado Department of Higher Education.

In the last academic year, slightly less than 2,500 students finished an educator preparation program at a traditional college or university, according to the report. Nearly another 800 people completed an educator program through an alternative agency, including online providers.

The University of Northern Colorado remained the state’s largest teacher education program provider, with 23 percent of education graduates last year coming out of the school in Greeley, according to the CDHE report. Metropolitan State University of Denver and University of Colorado Denver were the state’s second and third largest teacher preparation programs, respectively, by number of graduates.

“This report highlights the growing concern about teacher and educator shortages,” Diane Duffy, CDHE’s interim executive director, said in a statement. “Worse, the shortage directly impacts instruction in high-need areas such as math, science and world languages. This issue impacts all of Colorado’s schools, particularly those in our rural and remote regions.”

And staff counts and applicant pools in Aurora Public Schools and the Cherry Creek School District have not been immune to the teacher shortage, according to respective district spokespeople.

The number of licensed professionals applying to work in Cherry Creek this school year is 15 percent lower than it was in the 2013-14 school year, according to a district hiring report. New hires, positions filled and transfers of licensed staff have also all steadily declined in the past three years.

The number of classified personnel applying to work in Cherry Creek has increased by about 7 percent in the past three years.

Tustin Amole, spokeswoman for CCSD, said the district is partially able to rely on its reputation as a high-performing, high-paying district to recruit employees.

“I think the salary is part of it, but I think the district has a reputation for being a great place to work,” Amole said. “We’ve made the Forbes list for being one of the 500 best employers in America for two consecutive years, and that’s from surveys of employees.”

The starting salary for a first-year Cherry Creek teacher with a bachelor’s degree this school year is $38,148.

Despite an even higher starting salary for first year teachers with a bachelor’s degree in APS — $39,286 last year — that district is concerned about amplifying an already troublesome problem regarding teacher recruitment, according to John Youngquist, chief academic officer for APS.

“We’ve had a long history of challenges in regard to recruiting and hiring teachers in math and science,” Youngquist said. “Our big concern is that then becomes exacerbated.”

He pointed to existing teacher preparation partnerships with the Boettcher teacher residency program, the Stanley British Primary residency and CU-Denver as tools the district has used to combat the shortages. Although, he said those models, while effective, can be costly for districts to maintain.

“We’ve had success with residency programs in the past,” Youngquist said. “The challenge is those types of programs are … expensive.”