Search continues for teachers as Natuashish school struggles to fill staffing void
'We just can't manage the numbers,' principal says of students being sent home some days
With so many jobs still vacant at the school in Natuashish, the principal says there are days he has no choice but to send students home, until more teachers can be hired.
"Occasionally, when there's a bunch of teachers that call in sick on a particular day, and we just can't manage the numbers, we have to cancel certain classes," said Jesse Smith, principal at the Mushuau Innu Natuashish school.
The school is actively looking to fill 10 teaching jobs, Smith said.
That's an improvement from earlier this month, when the school year started with 13 teaching positions vacant at the 300-student school.
"I think it's going OK," Smith said about the administration's recruitment effort, adding one position is being filled in October. "It would be nice if we got a flood of teachers in and just solved the problem, but I'm happy with the progress we're making."
Smith said there are particular challenges in recruiting teachers to the community.
"I think it's kind of battling the perception of a Northern community and our community, because there's some bad press about Natuashish. The reality here is much different than what you would read if you did a Google search," Smith said.
"There's so many cool things about our community and the things you can do here, and it's just communicating that to teachers who are potentially interested — that's the challenge."
Kanani Davis, director at the Mamu Tshishkutamashutau Innu Education board, agreed it's difficult to find teachers willing to move to such a remote area.
"Not very many teachers would want to go to an isolated community, even though Natuashish is such a beautiful place," she said.
"The teachers that really enjoy Natuashish — the school, the students — are the teachers who enjoy the outdoors, that like the hunting and the fishing."
Another big challenge bringing in teachers, Davis said, is money.
"We're still fighting the government to get more funding for our schools," she said. "We're still arguing with the provincial government to try and get our pension plan similar to what Newfoundland has, so that we can hire teachers from Newfoundland and they don't lose their pension."
Meanwhile, Smith said while the school is working hard to avoid sending students home, some people in the community are upset about the staffing situation.
"The school has lost some trust in their eyes, because they know, on any given day, their kids may have to stay home," he said.
"We would like to avoid that at all costs and sometimes we stretch ourselves pretty thin just trying to have all the classes."