- Associated Press - Friday, December 16, 2016

BETHEL, Alaska (AP) - A Bethel school district struggling to retain teachers is offering to help fund college educations as a recruitment tool to get more teachers in its classrooms, particularly those from the area who are familiar with the local culture.

Joshua Gill with the Lower Kuskokwim School District told KYUK-AM (http://bit.ly/2gGXVp7) that locals hired by the district typically stay longer and take less time to adjust than those from other areas. He said hiring local teachers provides stability for the students.

“I’d love to populate all our schools with teachers from the area. You’d see our scores go up. You’d see a lot of things go up, because of the learning piece (the teachers) don’t have to do,” said Gill, the district’s director of personnel and student services. “We’ll probably never have that, but I hope to really reduce the number of people we’re going out of the district to look for, for teachers.”

That’s why the district is offering scholarships to high school graduates or residents of the district seeking a college degree in education.

For every year the student receives a $2,000 to $4,000 scholarship, they owe a year of teaching at a district school. The district will pay a student’s full tuition if they attend the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

Madelene Reichard was one of the recipients of the scholarship program and is now teaching her first semester at Bethel Regional High School, where she graduated five years ago. The district helped pay for her master’s degree from the University of Oregon.

“I knew that I wanted to come back to Bethel. This is my home. This is my community,” Reichard said. “And I knew as a student in the district it was really hard when you had teachers rotating in and out every year.”

The district has about a 15 percent turnover rate for teachers, which means it needs to fill about 60 to 70 positions each year. To reduce last year’s shortage, LKSD representatives attended more than 90 job fairs across the U.S.

“You know, that takes a lot of resources, and one of the things the district recognizes is if we’re doing that every year, let’s invest that money into our students here,” Gill said.

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Information from: KYUK-AM, http://www.kyuk.org

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