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'We're growing our own': Rural superintendent thinks out of the box to overcome teacher shortage

Posted at 5:21 AM, Aug 30, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-30 11:36:21-04

WALWORTH — It's becoming harder to hire teachers, especially in rural school districts. This includes Big Foot Union High School.


With a student population of about 500, Superintendent Doug Parker says candidates must have the ability to know every aspect of the subject they are hired to teach.

Rural Teacher Shortage

“Since 2003 I’ve seen candidate pools for teacher positions that used to get 40 to 50 applicants are down under 10,” said Superintendent Doug Parker.

“How many are actually qualified? asked TMJ4’s Julia Fello. Parker replied, “That's a great question it depends on how you define the word qualified.”

Rural Teachers 3

“We’ll use the math example: There are some people out there who can teach algebra and geometry, and do a very fine job. When you start to get to trigonometry, AP calculus, and higher math, they don’t have the skills," Parker says. "In a school district like this, we need teachers that can do it all, because we only have four math teachers in our building. Kids only come through here for four years. We get one shot to educate them. We want to put the best staff in front of them that we can"

Superintendent Parker says he is now growing their own. Many do not have a teaching license.


Michael Pitassi is one example. He works as a licensed art teacher, and is going back to school to earn his teaching license in special education.

“I thought a teaching license or getting back to school was a daunting thing but I just needed that encouragement. They give a stipend of about $1,700 just to cover your classes,” said Pitassi.

He has made a difference in 15-year-old Cody Jenning’s life. His mother Elizabeth says, “Now he loves school.”

Cody said his grades are now rising, “He made school fun — he changed the way of teaching.”


His mom Elizabeth adds, “They couldn’t find or have a better teacher than they have in Mr. Pitassi. His patience is phenomenal.”

“It means you're doing something for these children that you’re reaching them,” said Pitassi.

Pitassi is happy he took this route, which afforded him opportunities he may not have otherwise gotten, “With the rapid progression of my career, yes it was awesome. I didn’t think I was going to be a special education teacher when I started.”

The school’s shop teacher is also pursuing his teaching license.


“We didn't have any qualified applicants coming out of the colleges, luckily we had a local person who has tons of building experience. We hired him to come to teach shop for our students.”

Rural Teachers 2-2

“When you are in a rural district [and] you like to hunt, you like to fish. [If] you don’t like traffic, you don’t like to be stuck on the freeway every morning on your way to work…we have a lake people can enjoy.”


Superintendent Parker says they have been able to transition nearly a dozen people into new roles through teaching licenses and certifications. They hope to have more continued successes in the years to come.

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