Portland public schools have recently reported a shortage of paraeducators to help lift the weight off in special education classrooms.
The shortage is challenging, prompting the Portland Public School District to encourage more people to apply as paraeducators.
In Portland, the district is asking help from the community and encouraging more people to consider taking paraeducator positions as in-person classes have started resuming.
While nothing new, officials shared that the 2022 shortage has been more taxing compared to years prior.
Paraeducators have become a crucial position to fill as teachers are in dire need of help in classrooms to help handle students with special needs.
Ms. Kiki (Kijana Winchester) is a seasoned paraeducator for Portland Public with over 23 years of experience.
The experienced paraeducator works at Jefferson High School.
“My grandfather went to school here,” she shared.
“My father went to school here. I went to school here. I graduated in ’92, and I came back to work in ’98.”
Although most see paraeducator as a means to earn checks, Winchester is one of the exceptional to consider what she does as more than just work, saying:
“I love the students. I love the impact. It’s just gratifying.”
Tricia Curley, the assistant director of Special Education in middle and high schools, said paraeducators like Winchester could have a lasting impact on the system.
“There are a lot of paraeducators in our district who are changing the lives of students every day, and we need more,” said Curley.
Along with other administrators who oversee the special education program, Curley revealed that the district is in need of more paraeducators.
The director of special education for Portland Public, Michelle Murer, said that it isn’t uncommon to see many positions down.
“This year, we were down 65 openings in August. We’re still, at this moment, down 45 openings,” said Murer.
“At the beginning of the school year, we’re always down probably 15 to 20 paraeducators. But within a month, we’re usually back up to fully staffed within a few.”
More shortage in 2022
The shortage of paraeducators in 2022 has been surprising, and administrators don’t know how the situation came to be.
Others cite the pandemic as a factor to the shortage.
However, Murer said that when the pandemic shut schools down, paraeducators pursued other jobs and never came back.
Meanwhile, other educators cited the challenges of the paraeducator position.
They shared that they often deal with emotional outbursts and injuries when students are unable to regulate their emotions.
The position’s low salary is also a contributing factor.
Regardless, educators acknowledge that students are affected by the situation, which has made for a difficult time following the pandemic.
“I just think that if people come, they’ll see what a difference it makes and how fulfilling that is,” said Curley.
A seasoned paraeducator, Kijana Winchester still finds the job satisfying, which is why she continues to do it after more than two decades.
“Just making a difference in students’ lives like, that’s what makes me want to do it,” said Winchester.
Portland public schools have a $3,000 retention bonus for rookie paraeducators.
Meanwhile, other school districts have also struggled in bringing in paraeducators in recent years.