A shortage of subs

PHS experiences an unusual lack of substitute teachers

Story by Ian Sullivan

Throughout the first semester of the 2020-2021 school year, it has become evident that locating and assigning substitute teachers has been more difficult than the average year.

USD 250 assistant superintendent Dr. Brad Hanson detailed the district’s plan to reduce substitute demand, which helped limit the number of unnecessary teacher absences.

“We made a conscious decision as an admin team at the start of the year to cut down on our professional development days, the days that teachers would leave the building to go for learning, so we basically cut that down to almost zero,” Hanson said. “But that void has been obviously filled with COVID-related situations. I’m really glad we limited the amount of PD because if not we would really be in crisis in terms of our subs.”

Hanson, who is in charge of training substitutes within the district, believes COVID-19 has impacted the number of people willing to substitute and is understanding of substitutes’ concerns.

“We have a large group of retired educators [who substitute], whose age level puts them at the highest risk,” Hanson said. “So we’ve had several of our retired educators communicate to us that until COVID gets under control nationwide, they’re not coming back and I respect that decision because they’re the most vulnerable population.”

According to Hanson, there was a substitute shortage in the 2019-2020 school year as well.

“Last year, through 55 days we had filled 87% of our substitute jobs. So, even last year, before COVID, we had about 13% of our overall jobs not filled,” Hanson said, “13% is too high, but this year it’s 19%. So almost one in every five requests for a sub [is not filled].”

MaryAnn Cochran coordinates substitutes within PHS and outlined the process for assigning substitutes.

“Teachers login [to Frontline] and put in their absence. A substitute can log on to their Frontline account and pick up available jobs,” Cochran said. “When the absence is within 24 hours, if it has not been picked up by a substitute, the system will automatically begin to call available substitutes.”.

Librarian and instructional coach Samantha Warren has filled in for numerous teachers this year.

“I have subbed for other teachers and to be honest, though, I’m pretty picky about who I sub for,” Warren said. “If it’s a class I’m familiar with or has students who I know, I’ll volunteer. PE, weights, and math terrify me.”

Hanson hopes that the community can do its part in helping the district locate substitutes.

“My message would be, if any students have parents that are at home that are not working or they know of neighbors that would be good subs and would be willing to get out and work a day or two, then we could possibly fill that gap of what we need for subs,” Hanson said, “The only requirement for subs is that they need to have 60 hours of college credit. And if they contact the board office, they can ask for a packet of information that they need to do to apply.”