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Farmington school district reports 12 vacancies, but a high retention rate

Chris Pash, human resources director at Farmington Municipal Schools
District rebounds from challenging pandemic years

As the Farmington School District moves out of two challenging years of the coronavirus pandemic, it faces new challenges with academic performance, and a tighter market for teachers and staff.

In September, results from the spring 2022 State Summative Assessment tests showed 31% of students in grades 3-8 were proficient or advanced in English assessments, and 25% were proficient or advanced in math.

And the district reported that it had 12 open positions for teachers, at a time when fewer students appear to be seeking a career in education. The open positions were being filled by substitute and retired teachers.

In a typical year, 50 to 70 teachers retire or move on, said Human Resources Director Chris Pash. The hiring process starts in March for the upcoming school year.

“Over the last five years, our retention rate has been around 90%,” he said. “A couple of years, it got as low as 87; and one year, 92%. So I feel that’s a pretty good retention rate for our teachers.”

Although the district has a high retention rate, Pash said he has noticed fewer education students at job fairs.

“There might be 60 kids in the education program … at Eastern (New Mexico University), and this past year I think there was 15,” he said.

Secondary math and science and special education programs tend to have the fewest applicants, and filling them has never been harder, according to Pash.

“We’re always looking for teachers in those positions mentioned earlier, and believe it or not, we could use elementary teachers,” he said.

The Farmington district relies on Alternative Licensure and New Mexico Residency Grant Program to encourage people to choose the teaching profession.

Alternative Licensure requires a four-year degree in any subject, followed by seven classes in education for the required teaching license. Although the program is offered by many universities in New Mexico, most of the Farmington district’s teachers work through San Juan College.

“If somebody is out there with a four-year degree, that has a passion for kids and helping them grow … that’s a great way to get into the teaching profession right away,” Pash said.

Funding for teachers aides also is available through programs such as the BWP Legacy Scholarship. San Juan College also partners with Western New Mexico University on the TeachUp program, which provides funding for tuition, fees and books for students earning both an associate and bachelor’s degree in education. For details, visit the San Juan College website.

The state of New Mexico and the Farmington school district also have acted to increase incentives and supports for teachers.

Effective this year, New Mexico increased salaries statewide based on years of experience. Level 1 starts at $50,000; Level 2, at $60,000; and Level 3, at $70, 000.

The district started an employee assistance program offered by Ulliance to help with personal, marital or professional problems, Pash said.

He added that he gains great satisfaction by helping employees work through problems they face.

“The most rewarding is the people I get to work with. There’s some great people that have the interests of kids first and foremost,” Pash said.