Dickinson Public Schools navigates solutions to national teacher shortage crisis

Dickinson Public Schools Superintendent says the entity has averted teacher shortage by partnering with Dickinson State and encouraging paraprofessionals to become teachers.

Dickinson Public School.png
Dickinson Public Schools has worked to prevent a teacher shortage from breaching area schools.
Photo by Kayla Henson / The Dickinson Press

DICKINSON- As schools across the country struggle to cope with a teacher shortage crisis, Dickinson Public Schools (DPS) has been able to stave off the issue thanks to a unique strategy that involves growing their own staff members. By partnering with Dickinson State University and encouraging paraprofessionals to pursue a teaching career, DPS has successfully managed to maintain the necessary amount of teachers in their classrooms.

Despite this success, Superintendent Marcus Lewton warns that the demands of the job have increased so drastically in recent years that even the top employer in Dickinson, DPS, is not immune to the possibility of a shortage.

For Lewton, growing their own means encouraging staff members who aren't currently certified teachers, such as paraprofessionals, that want and have the skills to become a teacher to pursue a teaching career.

“We’ve done a really good job of encouraging them, finding resources, whether it’s grants in the state or scholarships that we can try and help support them because it's not cheap to go to school,” Lewton said.

Lewton said teaching is an honorable profession and that DPS is a great place to work and be a part of, though like any place, it always has areas to improve.


“I think the people here make it that, both the community and the existing staff,” Lewton said.

Dickinson Public Schools Superintendent Marcus Lewton is shown.
Despite a growing national teacher shortage, Dickinson Public Schools has managed to prevent a shortage from affecting their schools by partnering with Dickinson State University and encouraging staff members who aren't currently certified teachers to pursue teaching careers.
Dickinson Press file photo

DPS has maintained the necessary amount of teachers in their classrooms by partnering with Dickinson State University.

The two schools work closely together to get graduates into teaching positions, but the partnership has also helped solve a shortage of substitutes at Dickinson schools by using DSU sophomores and junior students to fill in as substitute teachers where needed.

Lewton feels fortunate to have grown up in Dickinson and been involved in the district for 11 years, noting that students coming out of college to become teachers are his first batch of junior high kids.

Between DSU students and dedicated staff members, the school has been able to manage and navigate its shortage of substitute teachers, something that Lewton commends his staff for.

“If we didn't have great employees that stepped up we’d be short all the time,” Lewton said.

Specialty subject areas like Spanish or CTE instructors are especially challenging positions to fill.

“Those specialty areas are really hard ones because oftentimes you're competing with industry,” Lewton said.


As an example, he mentioned that those in diesel tech or heavy equipment operator positions can make a lot of money in private industry, making it hard for the school to compete with wages for teachers in specialty subject areas like the SWCTE program.

“But that's not for everybody,” Lewton said, “So luckily we find people who really love kids and want to work in an educational environment.”

The district only had two open positions last year, one for an elementary counselor and the other for a Spanish teacher.

“We really haven't seen a huge teacher shortage, I would say, there are less applicants than there used to be,” Lewton said.

It used to be that if you had social studies opening you would have 100 applicants or 50 applicants, and now you have nine or ten Lewton explained.

A challenge for public schools comes in the form of funding and how that impacts their ability to compete within the market as Lewton explained.

“Our raises and how we can compete in the labor market is really defined by how much increase in the per pupil funding we get from the legislature,” Lewton said.

For the last two years, DPS has received 1% each year allowing for small raises, though that combined with rising inflation rates in competitive markets that are able to raise costs to compensate, leaves the district stuck when it comes to wages Lewton said.


Paraprofessionals largely make up the classified portion of staffing in schools, which Lewton said can be a challenging position.

“ One thing I don't think maybe the general public realizes is that we have a lot of families with high needs and trying to support those is challenging sometimes,” Lewton said.

Lewton felt like a few of the reasons for teacher shortages are due to the ability of schools to compete with the labor market with the state funding they are allocated, and that the demands of the job have increased drastically in the last few years.

While DPS has managed to not feel the impact of teacher shortages, Lewton notes that they are not immune to the possibility.

Allison is a news reporter from Phoenix, Arizona where she earned a degree in journalism from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University. After college, she worked as a middle school writing teacher in the valley. She has made her way around the U.S. driving from Arizona to Minnesota and eventually finding herself here in Dickinson. She has a passion for storytelling and enjoys covering community news.
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