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Rural schools in the North State continue to face significant staffing challenges

Students await the teacher's instructions.
Princeton Joint Unified School District
Students await the teacher's instructions.

As the new school year starts, many K-12 districts in the state are struggling to find the staff they need. Many small and rural schools in the North State have been hit especially hard.

Tim Taylor, executive director of the California Small School District Association, said the COVID-19 pandemic heightened staffing shortages.

"Some people have left our system because of all the stress the last three years, it's just been too much,” he said. “And then secondly, there's just other options for people, with a low unemployment, to go into the private sector instead of working with us."

Taylor said it’s especially hard for small schools to find specialized teachers for fields like special education, math, and computer science. In rural areas, he said, low pay and remote locations add to the challenges of attracting teachers.

The staffing shortage is also making it difficult for small schools to find substitutes.

The Princeton Joint Unified School District in Colusa County had to close all of its schools for a week after over half of its staff contracted COVID-19 in early August.

"I had to call an emergency board meeting and make a decision after having two days of school to tell parents that we weren't gonna have school for a week,” District Superintendent, Principal Christine McCormick said.  

“That was probably one of the hardest things I've ever had to do, because that impacts everybody."

Tim Taylor worries that what happened in Princeton could happen in other areas of the North State too, if the staffing shortage continues.

“Is that a precursor of what we're going to see in some more of these smaller towns that just don't have the backup capacity that we used to have?” he said. “So it's a major problem and it runs really deep up in the North State.”

Taylor said higher salaries for teachers is one solution, but more legislation will be needed to help small districts survive.

Alec Stutson grew up in Colorado and graduated from the University of Missouri with degrees in Radio Journalism, 20th/21st Century Literature, and a minor in Film Studies. He is a huge podcast junkie, as well as a movie nerd and musician.