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A shortage of teachers may be felt in classrooms across the country this fall, but the situation is far better in Evanston than in many other places.

In fact, through aggressive recruiting which even includes a signing bonus for certain hard-to-fill positions, Evanston/Skokie District 65 has only about 20 positions still vacant … down about ten from just a few days ago. And the hope is to fill as many of the rest as possible.

“We’ve been moving pretty quickly,” says Assistant Superintendent Andalib Khelgati.

Khelgati, who was once the principal at Dewey Elementary, now supervises teacher recruitment.

He says 98 percent of the district’s 830-plus teaching slots are now filled.

That’s far better than the situation in many other areas, with the president of the School Superintendents Association telling the Washington Post, “I’ve never seen it this bad.”

Iin an effort to fill remaining teacher vacancies, as well as to hire paraprofessionals and substitute teachers, District 65 will hold a job fair on Aug. 13, from 10 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at the Joseph E. Hill Education Center, 1500 McDaniel Ave.

“We’re hiring on the spot” for subs and full-time staff, Khelgati says.

The ongoing coronavirus pandemic has definitely impacted the job market.

The so-called “Great Resignation” means some employees, not just teachers, have retired early or changed careers.

With 60% of District 65’s work force not living in Evanston, Khelgati says, lifestyle changes due to the pandemic have caused some employees to look for work closer to home.

“There’s a lot more fluidity in the job market,” Khelgati explains.

Plus, the jobs still open are, for the most part, positions which have been hard to fill for years — special education, and bilingual education.

District 65 is even offering $5,000 sign-up bonuses for teachers who can combine both skills — bilingual special ed.

Bilingual teachers, of course, have to speak two languages, which eliminates a large part of the employment pool. Going into this fall, however, the district will have three bilingual school principals, at Dewey, Dawes and Washington.

“It’s so rewarding” to have leaders like that, Khelgati says.

As for special education, with all of its challenges, that, in Khelgati’s words, requires “a certain passion” for working with students who have special needs.

As part of its teacher residency program, where aspiring educators work in the district for a year and then are guaranteed a job, District 65 will aim for those interested in special ed.

Also hard to find — preschool paraprofessionals, where salaries in any district are relatively low. District 65 has more than a dozen such openings.

And then, there are substitutes.

District 65 is rebranding them as “guest educators,” and has brought the hiring back in-house versus using a subcontractor as before.

Finding subs was especially difficult during the pandemic, so the hope is that the change in hiring structure will make it easier to get individuals who want the position.

Evanston Township High School has only ten openings listed for certificated personnel (teachers, librarians, etc) for the upcoming academic year.

Classes begin at ETHS on Aug. 15 and in District 65 on Aug. 24.

And don’t forget the job fair.

“If you’re not a teacher, invite a teacher you know,” Khelgati says with a laugh. But he’s probably serious, too.

Jeff Hirsh joined the Evanston Now reporting team in 2020 after a 40-year award-winning career as a broadcast journalist in Cincinnati, Ohio.

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