Urban and Rural Staffing Challenges JOURNEYS

By Lenay Dunn / December 05, 2013

Recruitment and retention concerns have long plagued public education. Generally, urban and rural locales have a harder time recruiting and retaining teachers and school leaders than suburban communities. Recruitment is a topic near and dear to me. Not only did I begin my career in education as a teacher in a hard to staff urban community, over a decade ago I also helped start a university-based program to recruit mid-career professionals into teaching in hard to staff areas. There are several programs like this across the country designed to address these issues and bolster teacher and school leader recruitment. Yet, a recruitment challenge remains.

Reading about Nye’s recruitment process for Armargosa’s principal, I thought of a few issues about staffing that are common in both rural and urban sites.


CurriculumAndInstruction_15.jpgPerhaps one of the most difficult barriers to recruitment is perception. Suburban schools are often perceived as better schools, and they usually have access to more resources than rural or urban schools. This makes them more attractive to many teachers and principals. Yet, the uniqueness of rural and urban communities could offer more opportunities than a suburban school. The cultures and histories in urban and rural communities may be richer and more complex than a suburban community. The school or district could offer more space for innovation, more support and personal investment in staff, students, and families, or more opportunity to make a positive impact. Let’s shift the perception from “settling” for teaching or leading in an urban or rural community to seeking it out. There are many education professionals who want the challenge and opportunity that rural and urban schools offer.


For those who want to teach or lead in hard to staff areas, there are several logistical considerations.  While some districts offer signing bonuses and higher salaries, housing and transportation concerns can create a longer-term recruitment and retention barrier. Housing can be difficult to secure. In many urban areas, housing is expensive and competitive while in rural areas, housing may be limited. Some districts offer reduced loan rates, subsidized housing, or rental units for teachers and school leaders close to campus. These housing programs encourage teachers and school leaders to become more immersed in the school district and community. That type of commitment can mean a lot to students, parents, and community members.

In addition to convenient and affordable housing, transportation is an additional concern. If a rural district is within a reasonable commute of an urban area, that can provide an additional recruitment pool. Some innovative districts organize carpools, offer commuter buses from an urban area to their rural area, or provide gas subsidies allowing for teachers and school leaders to cut their transportation costs or minimize the hassle of a commute. In urban areas, some districts offer teachers discounted public transportation passes.

These types of efforts help address the recruitment and retention issues, but the heart of the issue is systemic. In many rural and urban communities, there is a limited pipeline of people who have the qualifications and experience to teach or lead schools in their own community. Improving the educational opportunities and outcomes for students will help better prepare them to pursue various college and career options, including teaching and administration. If we want to really address the issue, we want to build the next generation of teachers and leaders from within.

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About the author

Lenay Dunn

Lenay Dunn is a Senior Research Associate at WestEd and a staff member of the Center on School Turnaround. She is on the Journeys content team and is a blog contributor.

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