SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — The number of teacher openings through April in South Dakota was above 500.

The state had 515 openings as of the end of April, according to the South Dakota Associated School Boards. Last year, there were 520 openings.

The openings are in districts, both small and larger, around the state.

A count of the listings on the Rapid City School District website shows at least 23 openings for elementary teachers including two kindergarten teachers and four first-grade teachers.

The district had 10 middle school openings and at least 10 openings in the high school.

As of May 1, the Sioux Falls School District had 53 openings. There were 51 on April 25.

The Lemmon School District in northwestern South Dakota had openings but has been fortunate to fill most of them.

“Honestly, we had three high school openings and we filled those three very quickly,” superintendent Steve Bucks said. “We are pretty fortunate here. The one that I’m stressing out about is music.”

The district needs a K-12 music teacher, he said.

The Madison School District has also filled some of its open positions.

Superintendent Joel Jorgenson said as of May 1, the district had one elementary teaching opening and an opening for a speech language pathologist. The district was interviewing for the teaching position on May 1.

Jorgenson said it may be more difficult to fill the speech language position. “We also have (family consumer science) position open,” he said.

Filling open teaching positions continues to be a concern around the state, Jorgenson said.

Bucks said many of the Lemmon district teachers will likely be retiring in a few years.

In 2017-2018, the average age of a teacher in the U.S. in a public school was 42.4 years, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

A Pew Institute study said teachers age 60 and older made up 7% of K-12 instructors in 2017-2018.

Still, he said, Lemmon recently built a new combination middle school and high school, which makes the district attractive.

“We have a good situation, in a good community, which helps us but it is hard,” Bucks said of the overall ability to attract teachers.

Education representatives have said increasing teacher pay and increasing state aid to school districts has helped to attract teachers and retain teachers but the state is still lagging behind many other states.

During a January Joint Committee on Appropriations meeting at the Legislature, Secretary of Education Joseph Graves talked briefly about the teacher shortage in the state. Graves cited the COVID-19 pandemic and some other reasons for the shortage.

While the COVID-19 pandemic contributed to the loss of some teachers, the decline was happening before 2020, said the Economic Policy Institute. The loss of teachers when combined with the declining interest in teaching will contribute to a continued shortage of teachers, according to the EPI.

South Dakota did see a spike in teacher openings from 2019-2020. In 2019-2020, there were 294 openings at the end of April and 469 the next year.

The state had 428 openings in April of 2015.

Attracting teachers can also mean using an alternative option.

Jorgenson said he used the state’s alternative certification for teachers four times last year. In his roughly 24 prior years, he used the alternate certification a total of three times.

The alternative certification allows an individual with a bachelor’s degree but without an education degree to earn a certificate in teaching.

“It all boils down to quality applicants,” Jorgenson said. While the alternative option has helped, it must be used on quality individuals, he said.

Finding the right applicants will not get any easier, Jorgenson said. He expects it to be difficult in the future to find qualified applicants in advanced math, chemistry and biology.

The challenges won’t be confined to smaller school districts.