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School districts across North Dakota seeking international help with teacher shortage

Fargo, Williston and Grand Forks are just some of the school districts across the state hiring internationally to help ease the ongoing teacher shortage issue

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Members of the Fargo Education Association look on as representatives from the association discuss the teachers' contracts with the school board Saturday morning, Dec. 7.
Tanner Robinson / WDAY
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FARGO — Teachers can be hard to find, and some North Dakota public school districts have turned to the Philippines, some 7,600 miles away, for answers.

Working with Teach Quest USA, LLC, a teacher-recruiting firm based in New Mexico, Fargo Public Schools will be hiring 10 special education teachers who will arrive with J-1 visas, non-immigrant work visas for research scholars, professors and exchange visitors.

In Williston, the school district is currently hiring six international teachers, five from the Philippines and one from Canada, said Amanda Denevan, spokeswoman for Williston Basin School District. Most of these recruits are also arriving with J-1 work visas.

The Grand Forks Public School District is hiring 14 international teachers, mostly from the Philippines and also from Nigeria and Ghana. Expected to arrive by early October, paperwork for two of the new recruits is being processed now, said Linsey Stadstad, the district’s director of human resources.

The Grand Forks recruits will be arriving with the H-1B visa, which allows them a more direct path to obtaining a green card.

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Each district is using their own tactics to recruit.

In Fargo, for instance, the district is using Teach Quest USA , while Grand Forks and Williston school districts are accepting applications and choosing candidates that fit, and then using a law firm to help with the immigration paperwork.

While recruitment methods differ, one problem remains the same: hiring locally or even at a national level has become an “unprecedented” problem.

“Yes, we have experienced a teacher shortage as well, we are no different than any district,” Denevan said.

“School districts across the nation are facing a critical shortage of employees, as are many industries. We have an obligation to staff our schools with highly qualified staff for the best learning environment for our students,” said AnnMarie Campbell, district spokeswoman for Fargo Public Schools.

“It’s very challenging. All places from my understanding and from what I’m hearing are struggling with workforce shortage, we are also struggling with unprecedented staffing shortages,” Stadstad said.

The new hires through Teach Quest USA, which Campbell said has a record of recruiting highly-qualified teachers, cannot leave their positions as easily as a US citizen.

“If the individual does not wish to stay in the country, they are free to return to their home country. If they wish to move to a different town and or work in a different school district, the J-1 visa must be transferred accordingly,” Campbell said.

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According to Campbell, by the end of day on Aug. 16, the Fargo Public School District had 12 classroom teaching and counseling positions open.

“That number is changing rapidly and in a downward trend as principals finalize their hiring for fall. At this time, we feel confident in our hiring of teachers for the 2022-23 school year,” Campbell said.

In Fargo, international recruits will pay the costs of obtaining their work visas, Campbell said, adding that the district will be paying a $1,000 stipend for a “community mentor” position.

Williston Basin School District is paying the added expense of the work visas, about $4,500 per teacher, according to Denevan.

“We don’t provide housing, they provide that themselves, our principals connect them to other staff members and get them hooked up to help provide connections right away so they have a good success rate of building connections while they are here,” Denevan said.

Although the problem of hiring and retaining teachers has been a longstanding issue, the coronavirus pandemic worsened the situation.

Midway through last school year, Doug Andring, director of human resources for Fargo Public Schools, reported to the school board that out of the 2,162 regular and part time employees, 141 teachers and staff resigned between July 1, 2021 and Jan. 1, 2022.

“And you’ll see that is about double from what we had last year from teachers and educational support,” Andring said at the time.

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Previous years' numbers for the same time periods, according to district data, include:

  • 2020-2021: 71 resignations, 25 retirements
  • 2019-2020: 68 resignations, 30 retirements
  • 2018-2019: three staff, 68 support staff resignations and eight support staff retirements
C.S. Hagen is an award-winning journalist currently covering the education and activist beats mainly in North Dakota and Minnesota.
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