NewsLocal NewsIn Your NeighborhoodAppleton


'They have hearts of gold': Appleton parent reflects on the importance of paraprofessionals

Posted at 4:59 PM, Dec 21, 2023
and last updated 2023-12-21 17:59:23-05
  • Like school districts nationwide, the Appleton Area School District is struggling to fill paraprofessional positions.
  • I spoke to an Appleton mom whose son needs a para every day about why the role is so important for her son’s education. She said paras help inclusivity all around.
  • Click here for more information on AASD’s open paraprofessional positions.

(The following is a transcription of the full broadcast story)

One of the biggest challenges school districts are facing this year has been the shortage of teachers and paraprofessionals. And the Appleton Area School District is no different. I’m Olivia Acree, your Appleton neighborhood reporter. We’ve heard from the school district about how this is a challenge for them, but I wanted to hear from a parent whose child needs a para every day.

Jennifer Torgrude is a parent of an Appleton student with disabilities.

“My son has always had a one-to-one paraprofessional since the very beginning,” Torgrude said.

She knows firsthand just how valuable paras are for both education and giving students with varying abilities a normal education experience.

“Without paraprofessionals inclusive practices wouldn't exist,” Torgrude said.

Appleton’s open para positions have gone down since the start of the year, but human resource officer Julie King says they still have 20 more to fill.

“We do have challenges in filling in today’s work economy,” said Julie King, AASD chief human resource officer.

School staff often have to get creative. Nurses, kitchen staff, and even principals like Kari Krueger have helped out.

“We're one of the largest elementary schools in the district, so we have felt the need for paraprofessionals,” said Krueger, who is Highlands and Odyssey elementary school principal.

Krueger said her school needs to fill three out of nine special education para roles.

And those extra hands would go a long way, according to paraprofessional Taylor Gassman.

“When you don't have that just kind of just start to fall apart and you don't have the support, they don't get what they need,” Gassman said.

One challenge to filling these roles is pay. AASD starting pay for paras is $15 an hour.

“People who work with children and certainly with people disabilities, don't do it for the money they do it because they have hearts of gold,” Torgrude said.

Hearts of gold and dedication to the job.

“I would 100% attribute his growth and success, I'm getting emotional, to his paraprofessionals because they're well-trained educators, therapists," Torgrude said. "It's the para who day in and day out is really working with them to make those goals a reality in real life."

Click here for more information on the open paraprofessional positions.