WAUTOMA, Wis. (WFRV) – Eight days into the school year, and Wautoma Area School District still has five teacher openings.

“There’s a shortage in education from superintendent roles all the way down to paraprofessional roles,” Wautoma Area School District superintendent Jewel Mucklin said. “It’s not a lack of being willing to create positions. It’s a lack of being able to find people for those positions.”

The school district of 1,300 students is not alone, districts across the state and country are experiencing the same struggle.

“Our teachers are very supportive in the sense that while it might be a little bit more on their plates, they’re willing to do what’s best for our kids,” Mucklin said.

There are four teachers working with “overloads,” meaning that they have to teach extra classes but are also paid more when doing so. A science teacher was just hired earlier this week, so that should alleviate the extra work for three of the staff members.

“With our hiring of a science [teacher], hopefully, three of those overloads will come to an end as soon as that person is onboarded,” Mucklin said.

Overload or not, there is more on the plate of every staff member at the school, including Mucklin herself.

“Currently, I’m acting as the interim principal at one of our schools while one of our administrators is out on maternity leave. On Monday, I was there as the crossing guard,” she said. “Wherever I can pick up and cover, wherever I need to cover them, I’m there to do it.”

Whether it is for a crossing guard or an administrator, Mucklin said that the search for applicants is difficult at all levels.

“There’s a shortage in education from superintendent roles all the way down to paraprofessional roles,” she said.

Mucklin said that the job is more demanding than it used to be, and teachers could have better wages doing something easier.

“The students that we serve in today’s day and age are different than the students that were served years prior,” she said. “Needs are greater. Learning styles are different. So I think it’s a lot more taxing.”

Wautoma High School principal Jennifer Johnson covers lunch duty.

“Right now, it’s just balancing the schedule with the staff and filling in where they need us to cover and giving them the breaks they need,” she said.

Attracting and retaining staff is especially difficult for the district located in a town of 2,218 residents.

“There’s not a whole lot that is going to keep people here,” Mucklin said. “The two biggest [challenges] are lodging or housing and child care. And so when you’re trying to attract [people to] and market your community, those are two things that working individuals need.”

Green Bay Area Public Schools and Oshkosh Area School District both had job fairs just before school started. Mucklin said that it is difficult to compete with those districts’ offers, on top of having a more urban location. She feels that she has lost candidates and even current staff members through job fairs.

“It’s almost like insider trading, trying to attract a candidate to come to your district,” she said.

Mucklin said her district loses 12-15 staff members each year. So what causes the ones to stay?

“The people,” Johnson said. “The staff, the kids, there’s just a really good environment around these people, kids respond and say hi, staff say hi, people care. That’s why you go into the job.”

Johnson wrapped up her lunch duties by doing a lap around the hallways, making sure any straggling students were getting to class on time. She said “hi” with a smile to all of the students and staff she passed by and knew every one of their names.