Kenowa Hills — A mother of two, Anna Thrush left her factory job to pursue a flexible job opportunity in Kenowa Hills as a bus driver.
Thrush trained through the district for seven weeks to get her commercial driver’s license and started driving her own bus route this past week.
“I was driving past Zinser Elementary and saw the sign on the side of their buses saying they were looking to hire bus drivers,” Thrush said. “I was working second shift at a factory job and with a 2-year-old at home, the hours and the pay sounded like a good opportunity.”
Kenowa Hills Public Schools would like more workers like her to find opportunities with them. The district is looking to hire people for several open positions across the district including bus drivers, custodial, paraprofessional, childcare, food service, and clerical.
Additionally, the district is looking to hire a special education teacher at Kenowa Hills High School and an ESL teacher at Alpine Elementary.
On Friday, Sept. 24, Kenowa Hills hosted a career fair “as an opportunity to offer conversations and answers to questions about their job openings,” Director of Finance & ESSA Human Resources John Gilchrist said.
He added, “This job fair is about giving us that depth and breadth to help position ourselves to be able to meet the needs of our students every day and allow staff to be away if they need it.”
Compared to previous school years, Kenowa Hills is now facing a greater need for hiring people to fill open positions. It’s one of several local districts facing a nationwide staffing shortage problem.
“Every district is facing these issues,” Gilchrist said. “Kenowa Hills was in-person most of last year, so we were servicing students throughout the year but with so many being virtual, I think it masked some of the gaps we had with staffing levels.”
Shortage of Custodians
Gilchrist identified filling custodial services positions as the district’s primary area of need.
“Our contracted custodial services provider has had to bring in substitutes to try and cover the shortfall, but they don’t know our buildings as well and we really want to have a dedicated crew at Kenowa Hills,” Gilchrist said.
Ready Ride Transportation Fleet Manager Amy Tonneberger sat at a table at the career fair to “get the word out” about hiring bus drivers like Thrush.
With Kenowa offering $20 per hour and $15 per training hour, higher than the average pay rate for bus drivers in Michigan, Thrush was “shocked” by the good pay and felt if more people knew about it, they would be interested in going through the process.
‘Every district is facing these issues.’— John Gilchrist, director of finance
Gilchrist explained the district needed to cancel one bus route this year due to lack of drivers and is hoping to train new bus drivers to “have a good bench to pull from” when vacancies occur.
“In my conversations with other school business officials around Kent County, we are doing pretty well in comparison, but we have been relying on substitutes to complete our daily home to school routes and that is not sustainable,” Gilchrist said.
‘A Chance to Find Their Passion’
Cali Lipscomb, director of Kenowa Hills Learning Center, and Cassie Martin, Learning Center program assistant, were at the career fair looking to fill various positions at the Early Childhood Center.
“We’re looking to build our team for the brand new infant room at the Early Childhood Center this year,” Lipscomb said. “It’s a really exciting time and these positions are year-round, offering flexible part-time work great for college students or parents with kids. We love to give people with little experience a chance to find their passion for child care.”
Martin discovered her passion for early child care during her first job as an aide at the ECC and found her home in Kenowa Hills.
Gilchrist said he was pleased with the turnout at the career fair and the visibility they’re creating for the positions available.
“Getting your foot in the door now can go a long way toward future opportunities that may present themselves as others retire or step away,” Gilchrist said. “If you love being around kids and making their day special, we have a place for you here.”