Drolma Geyer decided she wanted to become a teacher as an elementary student in Longmont, newly arrived in the United States from Tibet.
Now, in her fifth year of teaching, she’s been hired by St. Vrain Valley to teach fourth grade at Longmont’s Timberline PK-8 — where her former fourth grade teacher and role model Kerin McClure is the principal.
“As an English language student myself, I knew I wanted to have that positive impact on somebody else,” she said. “With Ms. McClure here at Timberline, that was a huge opportunity for me. I’m really excited. I’m working with my role model, who had a huge impact on my educational journey.”
With the start of school less than a week away, the Boulder Valley and St. Vrain Valley leaders say they are close to fully staffed with classroom teachers. But filling all the open school support staff positions, from bus drivers to teacher aides to food service workers, continues to be a challenge.
St. Vrain Valley hired about 270 new teachers this school year, filling positions created by a combination of attrition and enrollment growth. District leaders said the district typically hires about 200 new teachers a year.
Superintendent Don Haddad said at this week’s school board meeting that the district is up about 400 to 500 students based on preliminary enrollment counts, with more accurate numbers expected after school starts.
“That growth faucet has been turned back on,” he said.
All but a small number of the district’s open teaching positions have been filled, based on the district’s job board. Those that are still open include a few part-time teaching positions, along with several special education positions.
Along with the new teachers, the district hired seven new school principals, with a mix of those from inside and outside the district. New principals are starting at Erie High, Erie Middle, Lyons Middle/Senior, Burlington Elementary, Grandview Elementary, Main Street School and LaunchED Virtual Academy.
St. Vrain Valley’s job board shows about 200 openings, mainly for hourly workers and athletic or activity coaches. The openings include 45 paraeducator positions, 23 custodians and 17 child care and preschool positions.
The Boulder Valley School District, which is seeing declining enrollment, hired about 130 new teachers, along with 12 new principals, for the coming school year.
New principals are starting at Boulder High, Fairview High, Monarch High (interim), New Vista High, Nederland Middle Senior, Aspen Creek K-8, Casey Middle, Centennial Middle, Manhattan Middle, Coal Creek Elementary (interim), Foothill Elementary and Superior Elementary.
The district’s job listings show 141 open positions, including 19 for teachers.
James Hill, Boulder Valley’s assistant superintendent of human resources, said the district is continuing to fill open positions and is in a good place with teacher hires.
Shortages also continue for support positions, including for tutors, custodians, bus drivers and food services workers. The district, for example, is still looking for a couple of dozen bus drivers.
“This is a tricky time for certain positions,” Hill said. “All the neighboring school districts are in the same situation, where you’re hiring from the same small pool.”
As several districts in Denver metro area bump up salaries to better compete with the private sector, Boulder Valley and its classified employees remain at an impasse in salary negotiations. The Boulder Valley Classified Employees Association represents bus drivers, food service workers, custodians and other hourly employees.
The employee association says the 3.5% cost-of-living increase given to all employees isn’t enough to get hourly employees to a living wage. The two sides also disagree on whether the district is paying in the 75th percentile range for salaries for each position, as determined by the district through a consultant based on peer school districts.
Mediation with a third party is planned for Sept. 19 and 20. If mediation fails, the process would move to “fact-finding,” a process in which a third-party arbiter hears evidence from both sides and issues a non-binding judgment.
In the meantime, Boulder Valley bus driver Michael Guidarelli asked district leaders to visit the transportation terminals to ride routes and talk to mechanics and other workers to learn more about the jobs’ challenges.
“The perception of the transportation department toward the district is one of mistrust, that the district doesn’t have our back nor looks at us with the same respect or regard as teachers or other staff members,” he said at this week’s school board meeting.
For new teachers, both school districts recently provided orientation programs.
In St. Vrain Valley, the three-day orientation session included a mix of in-person and virtual professional development. Diane Lauer, assistant superintendent of priority programs, said about 25% of the new hires are in their first year of teaching. Of the rest, most have three to 10 years of teaching experience.
The orientation program started with teachers in their home schools, getting to know their buildings and watching a video introduction to the district. The afternoon was spent at Longmont High for a session on creating a sense of belonging and community.
The second day was a mix of virtual and in-person meetings on the content they will be teaching, as well as time to set up classrooms. The last day was mainly online, with teachers choosing sessions based on their needs and interest.
“It was a great way for teachers to get what they needed,” Lauer said. “That’s really important because so many teachers we hire come to us with some level of experience. We really want to value that.”
In Boulder Valley, both new leaders and new teachers attended orientation sessions.
For teachers, the five-day session included a mix of in-person and virtual learning, plus time to set up classrooms. A highlight, said Boulder Valley director of professional learning Katie Mills, was hearing from students on the district’s Youth Equity Council on ways to create a welcoming environment for all students.
Teachers also were placed in small group based on grade level or content, giving them an opportunity to build networks, she said.
“It’s so important for them to feel welcomed and part of the community,” she said.