How IL's 2nd largest school district is preparing to welcome students back amid staffing shortages

ELGIN, Ill. (WLS) -- Students at Illinois' second-largest school district return to the classroom Monday.

Like many other districts, Elgin's U46 faces some big challenges, including staffing shortages.

Kady Schanze is training to be a school bus driver for the district which is grateful to have the 23-year-old as the district with 350 buses and 261 bus routes faces a shortage.

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"We did have a larger number of drivers retire in the last year than we normally do," said Jeff Prowell, U46 director of transportation.

Prowell said some retired drivers will be called back to fill the gap, but the Elgin school district is not alone. Several districts are looking for bus drivers.

However, because the Elgin district does not have a contract with private bus companies, Prowell is confident U46 has a competitive edge.

"The fact that we have school district benefits for our drivers is a big plus," he said.

He said staffing is a challenge district-wide.

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U46 Superintendent Tony Sanders said the district has about 90 teaching positions to fill, caused by a combination of retirements and lowering class sizes for COVID restrictions.

"We'll be calling in retirees, we'll be asking all our daily subs to step into classrooms [and] non-traditional teachers who may not be in a classroom may be asked to help," Sanders said.

Thinking creativity is also the only option for a shortage of speech therapists, nurses, occupational therapists and school psychologists

"For psychologists, we are looking into doing Telehealth therapy with the students to help meet the demand," said Dr. Leatrice Satterwhite, U46 director of specialized student services.

The slow supply chain is also a challenge, from getting the right food products for the cafeteria to operational needs.

"We are still waiting on driver's ed cars that we purchased," Sanders said.

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Despite the challenges, 5th-grade teacher Jacqueline Sanchez is thrilled to be teaching with a full class this year. She thinks of herself as a first-year teacher, even though she began her career last year when only half of the students chose in-person learning.

"I'm excited to implement all the strategies I learned in school," Sanchez said.

With staffing and supply issues, combined with COVID protocols, Sanders is asking for parents to be patient, at least for the first week while the district works out its challenges.
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