K-12 schools in Teton County struggle to keep educators

Jackson's affordability issues mean high housing prices and long commutes for local teachers.
Somes students at Mountain Academy of Teton Science Schools were without a science teacher for part of the year (Ella Wallace/KHOL)

by | May 18, 2023 | Education, Housing

This story is part of Jackson Hole Community Radio’s series on housing, employment and affordability in the region. Ella Wallace is a KHOL student intern and graduating senior at Mountain Academy of Teton Science Schools. 

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. 

“We thought we would be able to get housing through the school but they didn’t have any available so it was a bit of a scramble to find housing. And Victor was – affordable, isn’t really the right word. But it was less expensive than Jackson”  – Kerry Keating

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


Mountain Academy Teacher Kerry Keating (Ella Wallace/KHOL)

“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,” Cross said.

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. 

Mountain Academy seniors Cameryn Cross and Grace Regan (Ella Wallace/KHOL)

“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,” Regan 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,” Kelly said. 

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,” Kelly said.

Teton Science Schools CEO Shawn Kelly (Ella Wallace/KHOL)

Kelly said 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,” Kelly said.

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,” Regan 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. 

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