With flu season approaching and coronavirus cases continuing to force teachers to quarantine at home, school districts are bolstering their efforts to hire enough substitute teachers to cover all their classrooms.
Cheshire Superintendent Jeff Solan said the district has been able to maintain coverage of its classrooms thus far, but continues to draw in as many substitutes as possible to keep its classroom fill rate at 100 percent and prepare for the possibility of an uptick in the number of teachers out sick as flu season arrives.
“I'm worried about as more people get quarantined and as people seasonally happen to get colds, what happens to that percentage? I hope we can maintain it at 100 percent,” he said.
To increase the pool of substitute teachers and instructional assistants available to help out in classrooms, Cheshire has entered a contract with Kelly Services this year, partnering with the national recruiting agency to augment the internal hiring process.
Finding enough substitute teachers could already pose a challenge in some years, particularly when economic conditions were prospering and high wage positions elsewhere attracted potential applicants, however, now a mix of strengthened unemployment benefits and concern over coronavirus has made it especially difficult to recruit. Moreover, a teacher falling ill used to result in missing a handful of days, whereas quarantine measures now mandate that they remain home for two weeks.
“In the past it was pretty cut and dry, if an individual is absent from school we would need to cover the individual … so if someone needs to quarantine because they were in close contact with someone who tested positive, that’s 14 days,” Solan said. Two weeks would have been a “tremendous gap” in past years, he added, but has become typical now.
In some cases, teachers are able to continue their classroom lessons remotely with help from substitutes by live streaming into the classroom from home while a substitute monitors the room. While there’s no replacing the instructional value of having a teacher in the same room as their pupils, Solan said it can be better than having a substitute who might not be as well-versed in the subject matter.
Meriden Assistant Superintendent Lou Bronk said districts can also now draw on classified staff like paraprofessionals, behavioral technicians and tutors to substitute since the state Department of Education has temporarily loosened the requirements to become a substitute teacher, eliminating the requirement that a candidate have earned a bachelor’s degree or be in the process of obtaining one.
“This has allowed our district to work with some of our classified staff to serve in a capacity to substitute when the need arises. We have worked with our paraprofessional union to develop a system for utilizing our para staff for subbing when needed,” Bronk said. “Our paras develop close relationships with our students and often are a great choice for leading a classroom that they normally work in during the regular teacher’s absence.”
Meriden is also able to cover classrooms with interns placed in the district who are working on their master’s degrees, bringing in recently retired teachers and recruiting newly certified teachers who were not hired by a district before the school year began.
In Wallingford, administrators ramped up advertising for substitute teaching positions in anticipation that demand for additional staffing would spike. Around the start of the school year, the Board of Education also hired a number of teachers on one-year contracts to give more flexibility.
Wallingford Assistant Superintendent for Personnel Danielle Bellizzi said they included information about how to apply in their biweekly communications with the district’s community, contacted colleges and retired teachers, and reached out to organizations like the Spanish Community of Wallingford, which was able to refer some of its employees.
“I think we’re prepared, but we always welcome more building subs,” Bellizzi said.