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Low retention, fewer applicants among concerns cited by Tempe Union High School District officials

The Tempe Union High School district needs educators, and the supply does not match the demand.

Mary Keller, Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources, and the school district held their biweekly public meeting on Sept. 20, with the focus being staff retention.

Keller presented a graph of the declining number of applicants per job posting since 2019.

“The posting demand for jobs is just about what it was in 2019 pre-pandemic, however, the supply, the number of people applying for teachers' jobs, is well below that pre-line,” Keller said.

An area that has drawn concern from Tempe high schools as applicants for STEM-related educators are in need.

Out of 18 areas of study that are taught in the Tempe Union School Districts, mathematics is the 11th-most applied field and science is the 13th.

“Those are low. Those aren't above where they need to be,” Keller said.

According to Keller, annual data since 2019 shows the main reason staff left Tempe Union High School district was due to accepting other jobs, however, since the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of teachers leaving due to family has increased.

“People move more than they did before the pandemic, especially in 2021 and 2022, people moved out of state to be closer to family,” Keller said.

Keller presented solutions, including recruiting teachers via a program and funneling candidates into the school system by providing certifications. 

“You can get your degree in math or science and will give you an alternate certification, by going through a teaching program,” Keller said. “That's a recruitment tool.” 

As Keller's presentation concluded, board member Sarah James posed questions about ways to keep teachers in the district: “How are we ensuring that retention efforts are equitable across different job categories?” James asked.

Keller mentioned the use of bonuses in “hard-to-fill positions” in areas like special education, math and science.

“We need to look at the various positions and determine if that job requires more time, more effort,” Keller said. “People just want to be acknowledged for the good work they do.”

Keller is hopeful for the future of the district as retention trends look to be headed in the right direction.

“I think we're gonna be fine,” Keller said. “I'm confident.”

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