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K-12 schools in Teton County, Wyoming, struggle to keep educators

 Some students at Mountain Academy of Teton Science Schools were without a science teacher for part of the year
Ella Wallace
/
KHOL
Some students at Mountain Academy of Teton Science Schools were without a science teacher for part of the year

A lack of affordable housing could be hurting K-12 education in Jackson.

With home prices at an all-time high, the nonprofit educational organization Teton Science Schools is having trouble retaining staff and students are feeling the effects.

“We moved to Wyoming for the job at this school, we thought it would be wonderful,” said Kerry Keating, an English and history teacher who is wrapping up her first year at the Mountain Academy of Teton Science Schools.

Keating is one of the many Mountain Academy commuters from Idaho.

“There are some pros to living over there for sure, but any money we save in rent we make up for in the cost of the commute every day, and the stress,” Keating said.

Students, like senior Cameryn Cross, make the same-hour drive too.

But she said she doesn’t mind.

“My parents discovered the school and thought it was a really cool school with a great environment with place-based learning and that was the driving force that made it worth it to drive the pass every day,” said Cross.

People live in Idaho because of Jackson’s affordability issues.

Not everyone is able to deal with the daily commutes or high rents so there’s a high teacher turnover rate.

This year, some students at the Mountain Academy of Teton Science Schools were without a science teacher.

A biology instructor left for another job, just a couple of months before finals this year.

Senior Grace Regan said it’s been difficult for her.

“It’s sort of been that way for as long as I’ve been at Mountain Academy and I think it provides a challenge, in that you can sort of feel lost with all these new teachers and it can kind of feel like there is a disconnection there,” she said.

Turnover has plagued Teton Science Schools in recent years.

In 2021, the educational nonprofit faced a flood of resignations, citing leadership issues.

That was right around the time now CEO Shawn Kelly took over.

“As you have people turnover you can lose consistency, you can lose stability, you can lose institutional knowledge and you can start having some fraying at the edges of an organization if you don’t work very hard to retain that culture,” said Kelly.

Now in addition to trying to bolster leadership in the organization, he’s faced with tackling Jackson’s skyrocketing housing prices.

Across the region’s private and public schools, dozens of teachers have left in recent years.

According to the Jackson Hole News & Guide, the Teton County School District faced 66 resignations in 2022.

“Our competition is legitimately other communities that still have great access to the outdoors but [people] can actually afford to live there and buy a house and plant some roots,” said Kelly.

Kelly says a lot of teachers want to work for Teton Science Schools, but Jackson’s high cost of living makes it too much of a burden.

And often, private school teachers don’t make as much as in the public system.

“One of the initiatives that we really need to take seriously at Mountain Academy and at Teton Science Schools is: how do we provide housing? Because housing is probably the major issue facing employees,” said Kelly.

As Teton Science Schools grapples with how to keep staff, senior Grace Regan said she’s grateful for the teachers who have stayed.

“There are few [teachers] that have been around for a long time. I think that that has been helpful because that provides sort of like a little support system,” she said.

Officials across Jackson and Teton County are working on housing issues in the region, but immediate solutions – like more affordable homes – are still years down the line.

Teton Science Schools may need to get creative next semester to help keep teachers in classrooms.

This story is part of Jackson Hole Community Radio’s series on housing, employment and affordability in the region. 

This story was shared via Rocky Mountain Community Radio, a network of public media stations in Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico including KDNK.

Ella Wallace