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Reep: DPS would consider community experts

Dickinson Public Schools Assistant Superintendent Vince Reep said the district would consider hiring community experts to fill teaching positions, but has yet to do so.

Reep said the district has filled all of its regular teaching positions but one, a recent first-grade position open as of last week. But he was unsure a community expert would be a fit for that role.

“They’re talking more about the engineer that might be able to help out with mathematics, or the former rancher that might be able to help out with any of the (agricultural education),” he said. “At this point, that decision by the (North Dakota Department of Public Instruction) hasn’t really impacted us. It could in the future. It keeps the door open, but it’s a pretty minimal impact.”

Rev. Kregg Hochhalter, dean of students at Trinity High School, said the school would hypothetically consider hiring community experts if the need arose. While Trinity is a private institution not directly affected by the new emergency rule, Hochhalter said he could see the benefit to the program.

He added that he did have some hesitation with it, however.

“To presume that they have the content doesn’t always follow that they can teach well,” he said of community experts, adding that all but one half-time role within the school’s teaching positions are filled. “... We won’t do it in the near future, no. I will do everything I can to find a teacher that’s taught before, because I think that’s important.”

Despite that, Hochhalter acknowledged there is a “catch-22” when hiring teachers, a profession he described as “sort of dwindling.”

“Just because they graduated with their (bachelor’s degree) in science education doesn’t mean they can teach well,” he said. “... Likewise, there’s people out there that haven’t taught before, but you put them in a classroom and they’ll do well just because they have that personality.”

Reep said DPS has had some increased difficulty in attracting qualified teachers over the past few years, “like every district in North Dakota.”

“There is a teacher shortage in this part of the world and this part of the United States,” he said. “ … We’re luckier than most in that we’ve filled ours.”

The Williston Public School District has had more difficulty filling their open teacher positions this school year.

Williston Superintendent Viola LaFontaine said she had multiple vacant positions before Labor Day and had tried unsuccessfully to hire a community expert.

The individual had a four-year degree, LaFontaine said, but didn’t have enough completed course-work in the subject area to be accepted for the position by the North Dakota Education Standards and Practices Board.

Hiring qualified candidates has been difficult, she said.

“If I could find other experts in other areas, I’ll be looking at probably doing that maybe for a middle school math teacher,” LaFontaine said. “But I don’t have anybody out there that’s stepped up that’s even wanted to do that as a community expert.”

The sometimes-transient nature of Williston’s workforce could be problematic for maintaining teaching staff throughout the year, she said.

“Spouses are here working in the oil industry, but then when the spouses transfer out, then I lose my teachers here as well. That’s kind of the problem, just people moving and not coming, where before a person would take a job and stay longer.”

LaFontaine said any potential community expert brought on staff would be guided through the process of educating by both state and district mentorship programs.

In addition to learning how to teach more effectively, such mentorship would provide the experts with the district’s vision for its students, as well as its accountability methods.

Many of the responsibilities involved in teaching are based in personality traits, LaFontaine said, and are not necessarily linked to academic degrees.

Because of that, it is especially important to “find the right person” when hiring an expert, she said, as teachers require certain intangible skills.

“You have to be able to be structured and organized and you have to know the content area,” she said, adding that the social aspect of being able to “deal with kids’ feelings” and work effectively with them is also key.

“There’s a lot of responsibility in being a teacher, and accountability, too,” LaFontaine said. “… If kids aren’t catching on to something, you can’t just keep moving on.”

Haffner is a reporter at The Press. Contact him at 701-456-1206 or tweet him at ahaffner1.

Andrew Haffner

Andrew Haffner covers higher education and general assignment stories for the Grand Forks Herald. He attended the University of Wisconsin in Madison, where he studied journalism, political science and international studies. He previously worked at the Dickinson Press.

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