Teacher crisis in Emporia could close elementary school, combine grade levels

Published: Jul. 20, 2022 at 8:51 AM CDT
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EMPORIA, Kan. (WIBW) - A staffing shortage crisis in Emporia has district officials considering closing a local elementary school or combining multiple grade levels among other options.

If Emporia Public Schools USD 253 approves a staffing crisis plan scheduled to be presented at a special board meeting at 3 p.m. on Thursday, July 21, KVOE reports that William Allen White Elementary School could possibly close. Public comments will be heard before the meeting at 2 p.m.

The meeting is meant to discuss the district’s current staffing crisis, which has left 12 certified staff positions open at the elementary school, three at the secondary level and nearly 30 district-wide. It also noted that nearly 30 para positions remain open as well. There have been about 40 resignations since mid-April.

William Allen White also recorded its lowest enrollment in about a decade at 189 students for the 2021-22 school year. The previous year, the elementary school logged 190 students while the 10-year record was set in the 2015-16 academic year with 276 students. About 80% of students at the school also qualify for free or reduced meals - the highest of any Emporia elementary school.

According to the district plan, USD 253 would pause the school’s operations and transfer staff members to the positions which most urgently need to be filled across the district. It will work to maintain appropriate class sizes as students from the elementary school are transferred to the other 5 elementary schools. It also noted that staff would have a chance to list their top three preference for both buildings and positions.

Other options under the district plan include:

  • The transfer of instructional strategists to classroom teacher positions
  • Hire qualified student teachers in December (only four are available at Emporia State University)
  • Adjust instructional strategist schedules to go into classrooms for part of the day and teach flex groups for the other part
  • Combine grade levels into multi-age classrooms
  • Staggering start times
  • Increase class sizes
  • Schedule flex groups with more students per group

Emporia State University said its Teachers College has already placed four student interns in the district’s elementary classes for Fall 2022. The four are part of a 42 interns placed around elementary schools statewide.

ESU noted that it expects all 42 interns to graduate in December, as well as 34 secondary education teachers, which should help alleviate the shortage with the potential of 77 new teachers in the area in late December to early January.

As always, ESU noted that graduation numbers are higher in May so even more teachers should be available for the 2023-24 school year.

The plan makes no mention of renovation funding meant for the school as part of a nearly $80 million Building for the Future bond passed by voters a few years back. However, it does ask residents to consider job opportunities with the district and encourages families and friends to apply and be more actively involved with the district’s support.

KVOE also reported that district administrators will not comment on the meeting until after it has concluded.

Lyon Co. records indicate that William Allen White Elementary School was built in 1950 with more than 30,000 square feet of learning space. The building is appraised at $615,000.

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