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School district fills 19 teaching positions over difficult recruitment summer

Two current trustees said at Sept. 13 board meeting that they will not seek re-election on Oct. 26.
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The School District of Mystery Lake filled 19 teaching positions this summer but at least two current board trustees will not seek re-election Oct. 26.

The School District of Mystery Lake was successful in recruiting teachers for open positions over the summer but it may not manage to duplicate that feat when it comes to ensuring sufficient candidates for school board trustee in the Oct. 26 election.

At the board’s first meeting in three months on Sept. 13, superintendent of human resources and policy Angele Bartlett said 19 teachers had been hired since the board’s last meeting in mid-June. The process wasn’t easy, though.

“It was difficult this year,” she said. “It came down to the wire no doubt.”

Bartlett said part of the issue is that virtual hiring fairs are just not as effective as in-person events.

“It’s easier to sell when you’re there in person,” she said, making it a stressful summer for her and probably even more so for principals who didn’t know if they were going to have classrooms without teachers until the very last minute.

“I can well imagine everyone was feeling the grind a little bit,” she said.

It seemed there were fewer people willing to consider the idea of making the move up north to Thompson this summer than in years past, said Bartlett, acknowledging that difficulty finding employees is not a problem limited to the education field and that she believes the COVID-19 pandemic and changes people made to their way of life during 2020 and 2021 likely play a role in recruiting challenges.

“I don’t believe there’s a huge shortage of teachers out there,” she said, noting that universities were still graduating aspiring teachers.

Bartlett also said she hoped the staffing situation would remain stable over the course of the 2022-23 school year.

“I just hope I don’t have any long-term leaves because then things become even more challenging,” she said.

The first board meeting of the new school year came a week before the deadline for potential mayors, councillors and school board trustees to register as candidates for the upcoming municipal election. At that time, only two — incumbent trustees Lindsay Anderson and Michelle Tomashewski — had registered to run for school board in Thompson.

Two other incumbents — current board chairperson Don Madconald, who is nearing the end of his second term as trustee, and Li Cripps, who has spent half a term on the board after winning a byelection two years ago — announced during the meeting that they would not be running again.

“I think that several trustees are in similar positions,” said Macdonald.

Mystery Lake has often had enough trustee candidates to make it the envy of other school districts, particularly rural ones that struggle to attract as many candidates as there are spots on their boards, but Leslie Tucker, who has been a board member for three terms, said she can understand people’s reluctance, though she didn’t reveal if she planned to seek a fourth term.

“It’s not the most fun I’ve ever had the last few years as a trustee,” she said, pointing to challenges such as the pandemic and the abandoned provincial education reform legislation known as Bill 64 which proposed doing away with elected school boards.