Demand for special needs teachers higher than ever

TRI-CITIES, Wash. -- The start of school required the hire of hundreds of new employees to fill all the open positions across local districts. Enrollment numbers aren't official just yet, but schools are expected to have even more kids than last year. KEPR learned special needs programs are in even higher demand than ever.

Alberto Sandoval remembers how much his school grew between his freshman year and graduation in 2013.

"Probably the minimum I had was like 25 students and then I've had up to 40 students in a class. For some teachers, it was a little challenging because they can't really have that individual one on one time with, 30 times six, that's about 180 students you're seeing a day. And you don't really feel that one on one connection," said Sandoval.

Schools are getting even bigger this year.

"Kids are coming and we've gotta do our best to try and get them in classrooms with good teachers," said the Executive Director of Human Resources for Richland schools, Tony Howard.

Howard is the head of human resources for Richland Schools. He spent a majority of his summer recruiting new teachers. 15 people were hired so far to fill new positions in the district. But they aren't done yet. Richland is struggling to find special ed experts. Roughly 11% of students in the district have special needs. That number is just below the state average.

"We're all competing for the same positions in the same hiring pools," said Howard.

Pasco and Kennewick are working to fill the same need. Both districts find 13% of students have special needs. Kennewick added 26 new teaching positions for this school year. More than twice that for Pasco. But the need for dozens of special ed teachers grows.

"There's a special heart for that kind of work and there's not that many candidates," said Howard.

All three districts are hoping to fill their open positions soon, now that the school year has officially begun.

If you want to apply for the postings, you'll find the links on our website under newslinks. And if you've considered teaching but don't have a teaching degree or certificate, there's a way to do that in Washington, you'll also find the link for that program under newslinks.