For the first time at a Monroe County School Board meeting, district staff spoke about the “big quit,” the national trend for workers in many industries to quit en masse, starting in 2021. And it has hit home in the Keys, with the district unable to fill educator positions in its schools. Staff and board members revealed their difficulty in attracting viable candidates and discussed solutions at their March 10 meeting.

According to, “America’s ‘Big Quit’ or ‘Great Quit’ is a widespread post-vaccination phenomenon affecting everyone from McDonald’s employees to software engineers. A record 4 million people quit their jobs in April (2021), many of them in low-paying, inflexible sectors like retail…. The same is starting to happen in higher-paying jobs.

“Hundreds of Thousands Quitting Jobs in Florida as ‘Big Quit’ Continues,” shouted a February 2022 headline on

Harry Russell, executive director of staff support and instructional leadership for the district, presented to board members about his recent attendance and that of other staff members at the National Educator Shortage Summit in Orlando, hosted by the American Association of School Personnel Administrators. The summit brought together administrators from across the country to discuss how to find needed teachers and other staff. He said school staff in Colorado, Nebraska and Rhode Island told him they had the same problem.

Russell pointed out that since the Great Resignation, the district has struggled to find candidates for all kinds of positions, not just teachers.

“It’s all about education,” he said. “They are bus drivers, substitutes, parapros (paraprofessionals), cafeteria workers. … The labor market is changing before our eyes.

Paraprofessionals are employees who assist educators.

As of March 1, Russell noted, the Monroe County School District had 47 openings. The categories with the most vacancies at schools up and down the Keys include teachers, with 11 positions open for the 2022-23 school year and 17 paraprofessional positions open.

He presented several ideas for solutions, some of which were already in place in the district, such as the Grow Our Own initiative. This is a district effort to invest in those who are already employed locally or in schools. Finding potential candidates who currently have homes in Monroe County is important, Russell said, because the high cost of living has been a factor in employee quits.

“It wasn’t unique to us, I can tell you that,” he said, noting that a Colorado tourist destination administrator told him he faced the same challenges.

One of the incentives of the Grow Our Own effort is to reimburse applicants up to $5,000 for tuition. Other solutions for placing candidates in vacancies include pay raises, student loan repayments, support for daycare centers, workforce housing, encouraging students to become teachers, and a campaign. more aggressive national marketing.

Superintendent of Schools Theresa Axford issued a positive note.

“At the beginning of the year, we had 150 (paraprofessional) teaching assistants,” she said. “And we were trying to encourage them to become teachers. So, throughout the year, we only had eight takers. But you come out again, and now this time we have 44. So I think the program is already building.

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