Missouri’s top educator stresses teamwork in upcoming school year

Missouri students and teachers head back to the classroom soon. Schools are facing shortages of teachers this year. They are dealing with turnover among school administrators, bus drivers, school cafeteria workers – you name it.

From curriculum to pandemic-related health precautions and school library books, the education community is also a regular political target by some. Tensions have been high during some Missouri K-12 school board meetings about these topics.

Missouri Education Commissioner Margie Vandeven

State Education Commissioner, Dr. Margie Vandeven, said the public hears a lot about the struggles that schools are dealing with and she said hard work is being done to turn around that narrative. Vandeven said there is optimism out there.

“Our schools are great places for kids to be. They’re great places for our teachers to be,” she said. “We want parents to have confidence in our schools but the reality is that means that we all need to work together for the sake of our kids,” she said. ” We all need to stay very focused on the future ahead of us and work in a very hope filled way to empower our children so that they do feel safe and secure and ready for their next steps in life.”

According to MO REAP, which provides services to the state’s public schools, Missouri has more than 500 classroom teaching positions to fill. MO REAP said
sometimes the positions posted show up as one post even though there are multiple openings.

A statewide teacher commission is looking for ways to recruit educators and keep them in the profession long-term. Vandeven, said about 50% of the state’s K-12 public school teachers leave within the first five years. Fewer students are seeking a degree to teach.

“Our teachers are just such an important piece, she said. “We spend a lot of time talking about economic development. We spend a lot of time talking about the challenges that our children are facing and our teachers are just a key piece to that.”

The commission hopes to have recommendations ready as early as September to present to the Missouri Board of Education in October and prepare them for the next legislative session in January.

Doug Hayter, executive director of the Missouri Association of School Administrators said about 104 K-12 school districts have a new superintendent this upcoming academic year. More than 70 of those are a first-year superintendent.

By comparison, Hayter said the turnover rate the past several years has been in the neighborhood of 70-80 superintendents annually.

He points to a variety of reasons for such a large turnover of in the superintendent ranks this time around. The last few years have been extra stressful, including for administrators. Hayter mentions increased rhetoric and emotion at school board meetings, as well as increased pressure on our nation.

He said the focus will be the same in some areas and different in others.

“I think there’s some hope that it’s going to be a little bit different compared to the last two years. In 2020, when the COVID pandemic first started, I think everyone was very understanding, a lot of our educators were looked at very positively and almost hero status because of dealing with it. And then over time, especially districts who could not be in person, that tide seemed to turn a little bit and maybe become a little more negative. If you talk to educators, many of them thought this past school year 2021-22, things are going to be better, people are going to be calmer. But I think a lot of educators have shared with me that they almost think the 21-22 school year was tougher than 2021 for a variety of reasons along the way, so I found that very interesting. I think there’s a little anxiousness to say, is the current school years, 2022-23, going to be maybe a little more like we’re used to experiencing or is it going to be like last year and still somewhat stressful? I think that’s a key thing that a lot of our administrators are really waiting to see what’s going to happen,” he said.

Missouri has about 557 K-12 public school districts and public charter schools.

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