How Council Bluffs avoided the nationwide teacher shortage

“If a teacher’s thinking about retiring or relocating, they’ll submit that information to us in December. Then we offer a $1,000 incentive.”
A shortage of teachers has been a problem for schools around the country. One district avoided that this year.
Published: Sep. 29, 2022 at 7:14 PM CDT
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COUNCIL BLUFFS, Iowa (WOWT) - This is Riley Newman’s first-grade class. She’s teaching them phonetics.

Riley just graduated from college in Arizona, originally from California. Now she’s bringing her love for teaching to kids in Council Bluffs, Iowa.

“I have always loved the classroom, and I feel like first impressions, especially with the young ones, are so important. I think it can really transfer when they’re in those uppers grades, just that attitude they have with school,” said Riley.

As a new teacher, she gets a mentor. Mentors help proactively avoid staffing issues by setting first and second years up for success.

“The greatest piece that we’re able to offer is we provide a lot of wrap around support for new and beginning teachers,” said Dr. Vickie Murillo, superintendent of Council Bluffs Schools.

“My mentor is Morgan Wulff. She’s with me about five hours a week in my classroom helping me plan, implement activities, look at my data,” said Riley.

Council Bluffs has seven mentors in the district. Guiding new teachers is their sole responsibility. This helps retain teachers and reduce burnout.

“We try to help them find the joy in their day in the content area they’re teaching while also supporting them with best practices and good instruction,” said Morgan Wulff, Riley’s mentor.

Recruiting new teachers like Riley is important, but the district also needs to know how many teachers plan on leaving the next year. That’s why Council Bluffs offers an incentive program in December to know how many spots they’re going to have to fill.

“If a teacher’s thinking about retiring or relocating, they’ll submit that information to us in December. Then we offer a $1,000 incentive,” said Dr. Murillo.

It’s money well spent because it gives the district a six-month head start on filling spots. Council Bluffs has 686 teachers. Seventy-two of them are new to the district, according to its spokesperson.

Other parts of the district’s approach include hiring student-teachers before they graduate. The rapport already established between the student and school helps fill positions.

The district’s principles also banded together to form hiring teams. Those teams made hiring more efficient by pooling together applicants and placing them in the best-fitting school.

Across the river, Omaha Public Schools has a student body five times that of Council Bluffs. But Council Bluff’s multifaceted approach may be a model as schools navigate future staffing issues.