Accelify Blog

Need for special education teachers very high in South Dakota

May 10, 2016

By: Tim Mitchell


Special education teachers are in such high demand across South Dakota that the state’s two largest school districts, in Rapid City and Sioux Falls, are hiring teachers in the demanding field even before they are fully certified.

Sixty-one of the 364 teacher vacancies in the state — about 15 percent — are in the rigorous and challenging field of special education.

“It is a difficult position to fill,” said Randall Royer, leadership development director for the Associated School Boards of South Dakota. “It also underscores the supply and demand. There’s a demand and there just isn’t enough of a supply.”

The number of Sioux Falls students with special learning needs has grown by about 8 percent — or about 250 students — in the last five years, according to the Argus Leader newspaper.

The number of students with special learning needs has grown at a similar rate in the Rapid City school district, increasing by 9 percent, or 200 students, over the last 10 years. There are about 13,638 students in the Rapid City school district, and about 1,990 of them — or 14 percent — have special learning needs, according to Superintendent Tim Mitchell.

The Rapid City School District currently has eight special education position openings.

“The position that Sioux Falls is in, it’s the same one we’re in,” Mitchell said. “We’ve really struggled with special education.”

To more quickly fill vacant positions, both the Rapid City and Sioux Falls school districts have made it a practice to hire teachers before they complete their special education certifications, encouraging them to then attain certification while employed.

Julie Large, who has taught special education in Sioux Falls for 20 years, attributes the growing need in part to an increase of students with emotional concerns, and thinks the district is being proactive in adding positions.

However, about one-fourth of those hired last year weren’t fully certified at the start of the school year, and that pushes extra work onto fully trained teachers.

“It is challenging for us because they don’t fill out any of the special education paperwork,” teacher Sarah Henrichs said. “That relies on teachers that are certified.”

Mitchell said it is difficult to fill special education slots because there are a lot of additional expectations that weigh heavy on the people in those jobs. Besides teaching, much of a special educator’s time is spent filing requisite paperwork and attending special compliance geared meetings.

“There’s also a lot of burnout,” Mitchell said. “People dealing with students with high needs sometimes are working very very hard with these students and not seeing a lot of success.”