A nationwide shortage of qualified teachers is affecting local classrooms.
With less than a month to go before students return to the classroom, the agriculture and Navy Junior ROTC programs at Montrose High School will not be able to run at full capacity without new hires.
“I don’t know what we’re going to do if we can’t find someone,” Montrose High School Principal Jim Barnhill said.
For the agricultural program, the school could hire a placeholder teacher and supplement the program with courses from the local branch of Colorado Mesa University. Barnhill said that starting the school year with a long-term sub is not ideal, but it’s better than not having the program at all.
However, the JROTC program will not be able to continue without a new qualified hire. The program had been operating with one vacancy since last winter and the sole remaining staff member resigned earlier this month.
Barnhill is starting his 13th year as principal of MHS and he said that he has never had both positions vacant.
Michelle Pottorff, the district’s director of human resources, said that finding a qualified JROTC teacher is especially challenging because instructors require special training and must be retired military veterans.
JROTC has been a mainstay at Montrose High School for approximately 50 years. Teams travel to state and national conventions, where they have placed in recent years. Barnhill likened the loss of the JROTC program to losing the school’s football team.
Barnhill estimated that approximately 100-125 students participate in each program. 1,352 total students were enrolled at MHS last year, according to data from the state of Colorado.
The sole full-time teacher for the agricultural program announced that they would not be returning for the following school year a few weeks ago, leaving the district minimal time to find a qualified replacement.
Barnhill said that the normal hiring season for teachers runs from February through May, so teachers looking for new positions likely would have found them by now.
Nationwide, fewer people are enrolling in teacher preparation programs and the numbers are even lower for specialty programs, including agriculture.
“That's a challenge,” Pottorff said, “but agriculture is such a piece of our community and we really want to keep this in our schools.”
The agricultural program is also vital for the nearby farming community. Students learn skills important to become future farmers and contribute to community service projects.
Barnhill emphasized that the programs are more than just an hour in students’ days, but the curriculums involve extracurricular activities as well as state and national trips.
“When you talk about those kinds of specialty positions, it's more than just not having a qualified teacher in the building,” Barnhill said. “Your programs are at risk.”