ROCKFORD, Ill. (WTVO) — Paraprofessionals can make a huge difference in schools. They act as a second set of eyes in the classrooms for the teacher and another role model for students. Two months into the school year, the Rockford Public School district is still having a hard time get fully staffed. They still have about 75 paraprofessional positions available.

“Paraprofessionals are an important contact where students can build relationships with adults that are there to support and help those students be successful,” states Vicci Gartner, recruitment specialist for Rockford Public Schools. “Paraprofessionals are vital, they are key to student success.”

RPS is currently in need of these type of educators. In the state of Illinois, the requirements and guidelines to become a paraprofessional were recently changed. To get your license, you need a GED or high school diploma, and you have to be 18 starting in January.

Gartner is excited about the change. She says, “The change in the requirements is definitely helping to open up that job opportunity for a lot more people. Additionally, that change in requirement makes it a little quicker for us to get people on board and get them started, it’s not as long of a process.”

To attract more employees, the district is offering a $3,000 sign-on bonus. They are also trying to keep their current team.

“Our school board just approved on Tuesday night a special retention bonus, so that individuals in those paraprofessional positions can get a $1,500 retention bonus for each semester that they have 95% attendance or better,” according to Gartner.

At that same meeting, one paraprofessional explains why this is a step in the right direction.

“I’ve been with the district for 7 years. This is my 7th year. I came from Easterseals. I have a lot of special training working with children with special needs, kids with disabilities, behavioral issues and that sort of thing. I still yet to have earned a living wage working at this job.”

Recruiters within the district urge anyone interested in the field to reach out for more guidance.

Gartner adds they are close to being fully staffed with nutrition services. RPS is still taking applications for bus drivers, but they are in a better situation than they were at this time last year.