While education is a necessity that people strive to give children, Portland public schools have been short on paraeducators recently.
The shortage is challenging for special education classes, prompting the Portland Public School District to encourage more people to enroll.
In Portland, the district is asking its community and encouraging more people to consider taking paraeducator positions in special education classrooms.
Officials revealed that this year’s shortage was more complicated than in other years.
The people filling the paraeducator position will be crucial as they will help teachers in the classroom and students with special needs.
Kijana Winchester, better known to students as Mrs. Kiki, has been a paraeducator for Portland Public for over 23 years.
Winchester 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.”
Despite being a paraeducator, Winchester states that what she does is more than just work, saying:
“I love the students. I love the impact. It’s just gratifying.”
Assistant Director of Special Education at Middle and High Schools, Tricia Curley, said paraeducators like Winchester could have a lasting impact.
“There are a lot of paraeducators in our district who are changing the lives of students every day, and we need more,” said Curley.
Tricia Curley and other administrators who oversee the special education program revealed that the district needs more paraeducators.
Michelle Murer, director of special education for Portland Public, said it’s common to see 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
This year’s shortage of paraeducators has led to a mystery, as administrators aren’t sure how things could have turned out this way.
Some attribute the shortage to the pandemic.
According to Murer, after schools closed during the pandemic, some para-teachers took other jobs and never returned.
Other educators have stated that a paraeducator’s job is challenging, as they deal with emotional outbursts and injuries when students cannot regulate their emotions.
They also mentioned the low salary.
Whatever the reason, educators recognize that the situation is affecting students at a difficult time after a few years of the pandemic.
“I just think that if people come, they’ll see what a difference it makes and how fulfilling that is,” said Curley.
Meanwhile, Kijana Winchester has been working for over two decades and has found the job satisfying, which is why she continues to do it.
“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 new paraeducators.
However, other school districts have struggled to get paraeducators in recent years.