Northern Saskatchewan schools are scrambling to cope with a lingering shortage of teachers.
In Sandy Bay, located near the Saskatchewan-Manitoba border about 600 km northeast of Saskatoon, principal Randy Mallory said they’ve had to turn to the public for help.
“We’ve been able to hire a few more people from the community to come into the school and work with the kids,” he said.
Mallory’s school is in the Northern Lights School Division, which found itself short by 14 teachers at the start of the school year.
“We had people hired, but then they got jobs elsewhere I think closer to their homes, so we lost them kind of throughout the summer,” Mallory said.
The Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation (STF) is placing the blame for the lack of staff with the provincial government.
In a release sent to 650 CKOM, STF president Patrick Maze specifically took aim at the move to cut funding to the Northern Teachers Education Program (NORTEP) — which saw northerners trained as teachers from 1976 until the program was shuttered in 2017.
“In a province so rich in resources and with our long history of commitment to public education everywhere, you shouldn’t have northern principals in the first weeks of school asking themselves ‘how am I going to do this?’ It’s not right, and it needs to be fixed quickly,” Maze said.
After NORTEP’s closure, responsibility for teacher training was transferred to Northlands College at locations in Air Ronge and La Loche. The STF criticized the replacement, saying there were concerns fewer students were registering over issues around housing and financial aid.
In its own statement, the Ministry of Education said it was aware of the difficulties around attracting and retaining teachers in the north.
“We know this is not an issue in just northern Saskatchewan, but in northern jurisdictions across the country,” a ministry spokesperson wrote.
The ministry insisted the loss of NORTEP was not fuelling the staffing shortage.
“Regarding NORTEP, there has been no reduction in the availability of teacher education training programs in the north. Government continues to fund programs in La Ronge and La Loche.”
The ministry went on to say officials would continue working with the Northern Lights School Division to get more teaching positions filled.
— With files from 650 CKOM’s Chris Carr