Summit Sparks Teacher Retention Ideas

Schools across the U.S. have struggled with recruiting and retaining teachers for the past few years. To address those challenges, Fort Hays State’s College of Education hosted an education summit in June, welcoming a wide circle of Kansas educators for discussions and valuable information.

Rachel Wentling, FHSU director of field experiences, organized the event, which brought together a variety of educators, from grade school level teachers, superintendents, and Kansas State of Education officials for networking opportunities. Fifty-seven participants, 17 from the FHSU College of Education and 40 education leaders from 16 communities across West-Central Kansas, attended the day-long event.

The event was designed for educators to share their concerns and “take away some big ideas,” according to Wentling. Eighteen school districts were represented: Ellis, Hays, Plainville, Hoisington, Norton, Nickerson, South Hutchinson, Russell, Bucklin, Salina, Garden City, La Crosse, Oakley, Oberlin, Satanta, Ulysses, and Wallace County.

Data on teacher recruitment and retention has shown ebbs and flows over the past few years, Wentling said. The lowest year for student teachers was 2020, but the fall of 2024 shows a record number of student teachers in the pipeline.

“We are seeing that number rise again, and we hope to sustain it,” Wentling said in her opening remarks. “That is good news for us out in western Kansas because about 80 percent of our student teachers will stay west of Salina.”

Dr. Paul Adams, dean of the college of education, pointed out that FHSU is continuing its efforts to make tuition affordable to those who select teaching as a career.

“In the College of Education, we work to provide scholarships for every student,” he said. “It is my goal to get more scholarship money. The College of Education is producing the people needed to work in Kansas communities.”

“That means we are working together. We are your partner. Let’s get it right, and together, we can try to work on the problem.”

Dr. Chris Jochum, chair of FHSU’s teacher education department, said it is encouraging to see the number of freshmen teacher education majors interested in returning to their hometowns in Kansas to teach.

“We know that many of those kids on campus come from where you are,” he said. “That’s a testament to those of you in this room.”

“We know there is a teacher shortage, but our faculty walks into full classrooms daily. They interact daily with hundreds of students who want to be teachers.”

After wrapping up the sessions, Wentling said the group found roundtable discussions valuable as they shared their different perspectives. Common themes regarding recruitment and retention focused on the need to provide a more robust mentoring approach for rising teachers and teachers in the field, ways to build leadership, and how to positively promote the education profession.

“I think the biggest takeaway from the event was the collaboration and networking that took place, not only between FHSU and the educator leaders but also amongst the leaders themselves,” Wentling said. “At the end of the day, the word I used to describe the event was ‘engaged.’ There was great discussion, idea-sharing, and brainstorming among all members in attendance.