Amid high absence rates among staff and students, Peninsula School District Superintendent Krestin Bahr sent a message to district families Jan. 12 calling on parents and community members to consider applying as temporary emergency substitutes or support staff in PSD schools
“My priority is keeping our schools safely open,” Bahr said. “This is an all-hands-on-deck moment.”
PSD implemented a streamlined process to hire temporary workers and implemented measures to maximize classroom support, including asking central office instructional facilitators and coordinators, as well as administrators with teaching certificates, to serve as guest teachers where needed. Other central office staff were asked to help with lunch, recess and class supervision. Essential meetings for administrators were postponed or scheduled outside of school hours and meetings for professional learning were suspended temporarily.
“Some buildings have been short five or six staff and those are classroom teachers, paraprofessionals, office staff — it really did hit every piece of the building,” Minter Creek Elementary School Principal Todd Hering said, citing sickness and COVID-19-related symptoms as the reason many staff were out.
“(For) our substitute coordinator, Marina Nelson, I can only imagine every morning probably felt like a 911 dispatcher trying to get crews everywhere,” Hering said.
Under the call for emergency subs, anyone with a bachelor’s degree could apply to substitute teach within the district without teaching certification requirements. Under normal circumstances, a certificated substitute with a full teaching certificate as well as a substitute teaching certificate can cover any grade level, while classified substitutes are qualified to work as paraeducators and to sub in the office or library without teaching certification requirements.
Each PSD school also employs two full-time “building substitutes” who provide classroom support and fill in where needed when an outside substitute is not available. Hering said every morning around 6 a.m. principals from across the district begin requesting to borrow available building subs from other schools for coverage. “This has been going on since the start of the school year, really even last year,” he said.
School transportation has been affected by the staffing shortage as well. Shelly Rajkovich, who has been a PSD bus driver for 16 years, said that although it’s always been a struggle to maintain a pool of substitute drivers, particularly in the rural area of the Key Peninsula, the past few years have been challenging.
“We lost a lot of drivers to retirement; Covid pushed some of them over the edge. We also lost quite a few drivers just out of nervousness.” Rajkovich said. “Our sub pool is way down. It’s caused a lot of stress the last couple years.”
Due to the driver shortage, bus routes have had to be condensed, with bus loads from eliminated routes pushed onto other buses. “We lost somewhere in the neighborhood of 10 to 15 routes,” Rajkovich said.
“It is kind of starting to get better,” she said. “We just graduated four or five new substitute drivers. Once we get a nice group of substitutes, then the whole thought is to hopefully get those routes back that were combined.”
Key Peninsula Middle School office manager Kari Trivette said it’s been “incredibly difficult” this school year to get substitute teachers. “All of our staff members gave up their planning, I can’t even count how many times, just to cover for each other,” she said.
“We even had a day where the entire district was short subs and so our district staff, the office staff, came and helped cover classrooms. Dan Gregory, our assistant superintendent, came and covered classes.” Trivette said. “I appreciate everything they did to make sure that we could stay open.”
In a Feb. 10 update on the staffing shortage, Superintendent Bahr said six classified and 35 certificated substitutes had been hired, while 31 classified and 34 certificated substitutes were in the hiring process.
Hering said that although December and January were exceptionally difficult months and the staffing shortage has been a challenge all school year, he feels hopeful that things are improving. “It feels like we’ve turned the corner. We haven’t had the number of absences districtwide that we had even just a few weeks ago,” he said.
“These last two years have been the hardest on educators ever in the history of education as far as I know,” said Hering, who has worked in education for over 20 years. “It’s also been super hard to be a parent these last two years. It’s been the hardest to be an employee, to be a business owner, to be all those things.
“We’re going to push through this together and when we get to the other end, whenever that is, we can look back and go, ‘Man, we did hard work and we did it well,’ ” he said. “We’re here for the kids.”
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