PULASKI CO, Ark. – As districts across the state start seeing students back on campus, some schools won’t have enough teachers to fill the classrooms. The teacher shortage is impacting just about every district in central Arkansas forcing district leaders to find new ways to recruit and retain staff.

The halls are empty in schools across the state, but teachers are already prepping for when the first bell rings. While some of these classrooms are already coming together, others still sit untouched.

“It’s unlike I’ve ever seen before and I’ve been in HR since 2006,” Pulaski County Special School District Human Resources Assistant Superintendent Shawn Burgess said.

Burgess said they still need to fill 50 teaching positions district wide.

“I think that the pandemic has had a lot to do with it,” Burgess said. “I think the fact that people’s circumstances have changed and they’ve chosen to do something different.”

She said they are looking at the problem from every angle like turning to support staff.

“Recruiting them to teach if they have a degree,” Burgess said.

They are also recruiting those who have taken a step back from the classroom.

“Just yesterday I got a call from a teacher who is agreeing to come back from retirement,” Burgess said.

Over at the Jacksonville North Pulaski School District, Superintendent Dr. Jeremy Owoh says they still have 15 positions open.

“This time last year the number for us was double, almost triple that number,” Dr. Owoh said.

He credits a four percent pay raise across the board for keeping that number low.

“Money isn’t everything but, for me, I wanted to make sure we compensate our employees as best as possible,” Dr. Owoh said.

It’s not just about the extra cash but promoting a positive work environment, giving support to teachers and putting a focus on mental health.

“Climate and culture, making sure we have working conditions that are conducive to people wanting to come to work,” Dr. Owoh said.

For both districts, they have plans in place in case they don’t have enough teachers for the start of the year.

“We will decide whether or not teachers can be moved from school to school,” Burgess said. “We will also employ substitute teachers who will fill those openings as well.”

They thank those who continue coming back to educate the next generation.

“Thank you. Thank you for committing yourselves to the work to help our students become the best versions of themselves,” Burgess said.

Both districts are still taking applications and hope to have most of the spots filled by the start of the school year.