- Associated Press - Monday, November 9, 2015

ST. FRANCIS, S.D. (AP) - Danna Endozo wanted to be closer to her brother when she applied for a teaching job in the United States.

But instead of landing in New York, Endozo was placed in this tiny town in the middle of the Rosebud Reservation. She enjoys the assignment despite the distance from her brother.

“I can see that they really need teachers,” Endozo told the Argus Leader (http://argusne.ws/1HrQLMB ).

Endozo is from Manila, the capital of the Philippines, and moved to South Dakota this year to teach first-graders at St. Francis Indian School. Officials hired two Filipino teachers, including Endozo, in an ongoing effort to plug classroom holes in their 660-student school system.

School leaders blame a low starting salary for limiting their ability to attract educators from regional colleges. And once they’re hired, it’s hard to keep young teachers from leaving for larger, better-paying districts after the school has invested time, energy and resources into training, St. Francis Superintendent Richard Bad Milk said.

“They leave for these different school districts with that training,” Bad Milk said. “And then we start all over again.”

Officials turned to overseas recruiting for the first time this year to find qualified educators willing to work in a rural area struggling under a 45 percent poverty rate.

Hiring is a non-stop responsibility for St. Francis administrators, with openings that remain unfilled even after school starts. In September, the district posted openings for a music teacher, high school principal, special education counselor, language arts teacher, middle school dean of students, Lakota speaker, K-6 paraprofessionals, bus drivers and coaching positions.

Schools across the U.S. have turned to foreign teachers in the face of teacher shortages. Teachers from the Philippines have been hired by the thousands to work in Maryland, New York and Texas public schools, especially in rural or inner-city schools.

The two Filipino teachers at St. Francis have been effective in the classroom, said elementary school principal Dani Walking Eagle. Officials conducted interviews by Skype with teachers who were interested.

“Very good English, highly qualified, very good experience,” Walking Eagle said. “We saw this as one avenue to fill our shortages.”

Families who live on the Rosebud Reservation can choose between St. Francis and Todd County public schools.

While Todd County and other state-funded schools can look to Pierre for a possible solution to low teacher salaries, St. Francis depends on funding from the U.S. Bureau of Indian Education.

Proximity to Todd County schools creates competition for teachers in an area where the median household income is roughly $21,000 less than the national average.

Educators at St. Francis are stuck with the sometimes overwhelming responsibility of providing children from difficult situations at home with a stable environment. It means subsidizing the food budget from the general fund. It means dealing with behavioral problems. It means driving students to the hospital when they get sick, or to the eye doctor when they need glasses.

Students in other parts of the state might have a quiet, safe place at home to do homework, but that’s not the case for many St. Francis students, Bad Milk said.

“Our children don’t have that because of the poverty here on the reservation,” Bad Milk said. “We try to offer what we can.”

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Information from: Argus Leader, http://www.argusleader.com

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