Minnesota Now with Cathy Wurzer

Minnesota school districts look to visa program to avoid teacher shortage

A group of people line the stairs
Red Lake Public Schools has hired 11 educators from the Philippines to help fill vacant teaching positions.
Courtesy Tim Lutz

There are more 5,000 active job postings in Minnesota schools, according to St. Cloud State University’s EdPost listings. There’s one school district you won’t see on that list: Red Lake Public Schools.

The district is fully staffed, thanks to teachers it has hired from abroad, specifically from the Philippines. Red Lake has hired 11 educators from the Philippines.

Back in 2022, MPR News reported on Willmar doing the same. Fridley Public Schools has hired 33 educators from the Philippines. And the Department of Education just signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Mexico to help pave the way for teachers from Mexico to get jobs here as more districts look to teachers from other countries to fill positions.

MPR News host Cathy Wurzer talked about this strategy with Red Lake Public Schools Superintendent Tim Lutz and Dara Antazo, a Pre-K special education teacher at Red Lake from the Philippines.

A man and woman stand in a classroom
Red Lake Public Schools Superintendent Tim Lutz (left) hired Dara Antazo (right) as the district's first teacher from the Philippines.
Courtesy Dara Antazo

Use the audio player above to listen to the full conversation.

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Audio transcript

CATHY WURZER: A top education employment site shows there are more than 5,700 active job postings in Minnesota's schools. There's one school district, though, where you won't see that-- won't see them on the list at all. That's Red Lake Public Schools. The district is fully staffed. The reason, it's turning to teachers from abroad, specifically from the Philippines.

Red Lake has hired 11 educators from the Philippines. Back in 2022, MPR News reported on Willmar doing the same. Fridley Public Schools has hired 33 educators from the Philippines. And the Department of Education just signed a memorandum of understanding with Mexico to help pave the way for teachers from Mexico to get jobs here as more districts look to teachers from other countries to fill positions.

Joining us right now with more is Red Lake Public School superintendent Tim Lutz and a pre-K special education teacher at Red Lake from the Philippines Dara Antazo. Dara and Tim, welcome.

TIM LUTZ: Thank you, Cathy.

DARA ANTAZO: Hi, good morning. Thank you.

CATHY WURZER: Good morning. Thanks for taking the time to talk with us. Superintendent Lutz, I'm going to start with you first. When did you realize that hiring international teachers was an option for you.

TIM LUTZ: Well, it's a long story. I'll try to keep it short. But I was a superintendent previously in Bemidji. And I would occasionally receive an email query that I thought was a fishing expedition. I thought it was a scam, so I ignored those emails.

But about a year and a half ago, I began getting a few other queries from individuals and also from agencies looking to help us place teachers. So at a conference that I was at last June, I met with a couple of other superintendents. And a couple of them had hired one or two.

Now, we were already in the process of hiring Dara from another school district in South Dakota. So I just reached out to a couple of organizations and found out that they were legitimate, signed on with one of those companies whose name is HireFox Staffing Agency out of Missouri. And they assured me that throughout the process, they would help us find high-qualified employees with good English-speaking skills. And the rest is history.

CATHY WURZER: Can you give folks an idea here? Prior to hiring teachers from the Philippines, how hard was it to fill vacant teacher positions?

TIM LUTZ: It was just about impossible. We went for, I believe, three years without a middle school science-- or high school teacher, excuse me, two years without a language arts teacher in the high school, one of our grade levels ninth grade.

So we were filling them with long-term subs or asking retirees to come back and cover for these jobs. So 10 years ago when I was a superintendent in a different district, it was not uncommon at all to get 90 or 100 applications for an elementary position. Now we see maybe a handful and almost never where we really need them, which is in mathematics, science, or in special education.

CATHY WURZER: Dara, thank you for joining us in this conversation. Welcome to Minnesota, by the way. What spurred you to want to become a teacher here in the United States?

DARA ANTAZO: Hi. Thank you. Actually, honestly, so before I got here, it is because of my mom. So it started when my mom passed away. And I feel like I needed more new environment for me to work. And I felt so sad that time. And then I have a friend who's working also with me, and then who also encouraged me to apply here in the United States. So from there, I started working and applying here.

CATHY WURZER: How has it been going in Red Lake?

DARA ANTAZO: Oh, it's very amazing. And we love it here. We really love the place and the community. And all the admins are very supportive. All our colleagues are very helpful when we need some help. And they are just very welcoming to us.

CATHY WURZER: I understand, Dara, that you in a sense opened the floodgates-- the welcome gates for Red Lake. And you encourage some of your friends from the Philippines to work in the district.

DARA ANTAZO: Yes, so I actually have three friends who are really my friends way back from the Philippines. So we were colleagues in private school. And that was my first teaching experience in the Philippines.

So what I did is that so when I saw that they have a lot of vacancy here at Red Lake, so I actually really sent a message to my friends and then told me that, oh, they have a lot of vacancy. And then if you want to apply, you can apply. And then one of them is really trying to apply for a position here in the USA.

And then luckily, she got an offer. And then after that, another friend of mine, so I also tried asking her if she wants to apply. And I didn't really ask her. I really pushed them to apply. And then she said that time that-- it's kind of funny because she's saying that time, she's not really ready, like no papers at all, no documents. But I said, I'm going to help you with the process, and then I will send all my documents to you. So they applied. And then finally, thankfully, they got the offer.

CATHY WURZER: Superintendent, I'm wondering, are international teachers paid education union wages? Are they paid more than that, less than that? How does that work?

TIM LUTZ: And just like we do any other teacher, that's the fairest and most equitable way to do things. So we for sure wanted to make sure that they felt welcome and as qualified teachers were placed on the salary scale and schedule just like all of the other teachers.

And it's working out well. These teachers have been very, very professional for us. They've been learning the culture of the Red Lake Nation, learning some of the language. And we want to keep them because they're working for us. So yes, we're paying them just what other teachers would get.

CATHY WURZER: And do you pay the agency to find the teachers?

TIM LUTZ: Yes, we do. There are lots of loopholes and a lot of red tape to go through, a lot of legal concerns applying for a visa and a work permit. And as an educator, I know nothing about any of that. So we're more than happy to have an agency like HireFox help us with that process.

CATHY WURZER: I'm curious about the reaction of your colleagues in other districts. Is there any pushback to this?

TIM LUTZ: There's been no pushback from any of my colleagues or from anybody in this district because everybody here appreciates that we have a fully staffed school district with no open classrooms.

But I do hear from other superintendents that their communities are a little bit hesitant at times because of the politicization of immigration and also because there's a perception in some places that we're taking jobs from local people.

But if people are listening and hearing what we're saying, what we're saying is we can't find teachers who are local. So this is our stopgap measure, if you will, until the pendulum switches and we get more teachers who are local.

CATHY WURZER: So, Dara, getting back to you for just a moment. As the superintendent mentioned, you are on the Red Lake Nation. And you have a predominantly Native student population that you're dealing with. What are you learning when it comes to the culture of the Red Lake Nation?

DARA ANTAZO: That's one of the advantage going here. And I really love learning it. So actually, of course, we have a different language or dialect in the Philippines. And then right now, it's an awesome experience for us to experience learning their language and their culture, too. It's just awesome.

When you're incorporating it to your students, of course, I'm also learning. And as an exchange cultural program, that's also very helpful for me because I can also document, and then submit all the necessary documents to my visa. It's helpful for me too.

CATHY WURZER: Interesting here. Superintendent Lutz, thank you so much for your time. And, Dara, all best to you.

TIM LUTZ: Thank you, Cathy.

DARA ANTAZO: Thank you so much.

CATHY WURZER: Tim Lutz is the Red Lake Public Schools Superintendent. Dara Antazo is a pre-K special education teacher at Red Lake. And she is from the Philippines.

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