Northern Saskatchewan schools short 14 teachers this year and feeling the pinch

The Northern Lights School Division was 14 teachers short on the first day of school this year.

The Northern Lights School Division is struggling with recruitment and retention of qualified teachers

Churchill Community High School in La Ronge, Sask. is one of the schools affected by the teacher shortage. (Facebook/Churchill Community High School)

The Northern Lights School Division was 14 teachers short on the first day of school this year.

"It's La Loche, Sandy Bay, Pinehouse, Stony Rapids, La Ronge. It's right across," said NLSD's director of education, Jason Young. "What we need to be focused on is what is our plan going forward to recruit teachers?"

Young and other administrators will look at recruitment strategies when the board meets in two weeks.

Staff morale has taken a hit, Young said, "because their teaching assignments need to be changed as a result of the shortage."

Incentives offered

NLSD has had difficulty retaining teaching numbers for years, in part because the more stable Baby Boomer-aged workforce is retiring.

Young people come to teach, but often only until they can obtain employment closer to home.

"We have things like the northern allowance — it's an additional allowance on top of the annual salary. There's subsidized housing. We offer moving expenses. We provide bursaries for students and we provide education leave," Young said.

Northlands College took over post-secondary education services in the North in 2017 (
He believes more incentives need to be offered to northern students just out of high school: "Invest in them in their post-secondary education and have them return to work for us."

Young says his task for the Ministry of Education is further collaboration and conversation focusing on recruitment and training of teachers in northern Saskatchewan.

'Confusion' over programs and resources

Young acknowledges part of the recruitment issue could have to do with changes to the way teachers are trained in the North

The provincial government announced last year that Northlands College would be taking over the provision of higher education in the area.

According to April ChiefCalf, a former co-ordinator for the Northern Teachers Education Program (NORTEP), only one third of the students enrolled in the program transferred to Northlands College.

"It is down partly to the fact that we have confusion over who is delivering what in the North," said ChiefCalf.

Students weren't clear on how much funding they could receive or how to access it after the change in administration.

She has hope that Northlands College will be successful in delivering education to the North's future teachers.

"They've done really well with their nursing program so I think there's potential there. It was a very political decision and when it's political you're doing it for the wrong reasons," she said

"Closing down a successful program was definitely not the answer."

The Ministry of Education provided a statement when asked about this story.

"We know this is not just an issue in northern Saskatchewan, but in northern jurisdictions across the country. The Ministry of Education has offered to continue discussions and to support Northern Lights School Division with their recruitment and retention plans to fill these positions as quickly as possible," the statement said. 

"As school divisions are responsible for staffing, it would be best to speak with the Northern Lights School Division for specific questions about staffing."