The district’s human services director, Lindsay Henry, said the district had sent the initial visa paperwork for their hired international teachers in July. Those teachers were scheduled to arrive the first week of September.
“They received the documents in July. So you know, we expected a two-to-three week process in July,” she said. “We were expecting probably the first week of September for everybody to be here, but I don’t think they even got their first review until the end of September.”
The teachers, all from the Philippines, are on HB-1 visas, meaning they can teach in the United States for three years. The district also hired a teacher from Cameroon, who arrived in early October, Henry said.
Henry said that the teachers are still waiting on their exit requirements and the paperwork they need to leave their home country. She said that the district expects the final paperwork to go through in November.
Since the start of the school year, Dillingham has filled the empty positions with local community members, including retired teachers. The substitutes have completed and met the requirements for a classified employee application and passed a background check.
The district has also asked its present teachers to make additional lesson plans and help the substitutes in the classroom. Henry said the money that would go to the awaited international teachers is used, in part, to pay people for this work.
At the elementary school, which is down a third, fifth, and special education teacher, Principal Nick Tweet said that they’ve established a routine. But that routine means more work for staff.
“The students have been waiting for these teachers just like we have. But I don’t think they feel that in the education that they’re getting. I think the strain is mostly on the staff just picking up the slack for people that aren’t here,” he said.
When teachers do arrive, Tweet said the elementary school plans to help them settle into the job.
“Because we’ve been dealing with subs for a while, we have a pretty good support system. So I think we’ll just kind of roll that over,” he said. “We’ll keep that support that we’ve offered the subs with the teachers when they arrive.”
The transition will require training the arriving elementary school teachers in the school’s new literacy curriculum, so they can fulfill the requirements of the Alaska Reads Act, which went into effect in July. Henry said this may take additional hours outside of their workday.
Several school districts in western Alaska have looked to other countries, especially the Philippines, to fill vacant positions. Last year, more than half of the staff at the Kuspuk School District in the Bethel Census area came from the Philippines to work.
Henry said the teacher shortage in the United States has made filling positions challenging, and that other countries aren’t experiencing the same shortage. The district had to hire more than a quarter of its staff last April due to high teacher turnover. At this time, school staff highlighted the lack of available incentives and housing options as deterrents for potential hires.
Henry said that this year, teachers can commit to teaching for the next school year in January, so the district can start advertising for open positions in February.
Going forward Henry said the district wants to hire teachers who reflect the student population.
“We’d love to hire people who have come back to Dillingham, or who are from Dillingham, or who are from Alaska,” she said. “We have a lot of folks who have come back and are here either long-term subbing or teaching for us. We would love to see that continue to happen.”
Henry said that if the district is still waiting for their teachers by the second semester, they plan to begin the hiring process to fill the roles.
Disclaimer: The Dillingham City School District owns KDLG’s broadcasting license, but it does not influence or direct our coverage.
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