Jan. 27—Across the state, school districts grapple with the loss of teachers and administrators who are out with Covid, while not having enough substitutes to take care of daily duties.
During the Kansas State Board of Education meeting on Jan. 11, Kansas Education Commissioner Randy Watson said that "four school districts right now that I know of are about to shut their doors. They don't have enough staff to operate."
The board of education decided to create a temporary emergency declaration, that allows for substitute teachers in Kansas no longer needing college credit hours until June, in hopes to give school districts a chance to find substitutes in their area.
For superintendents in Dickinson County, the struggle comes with finding substitutes that can give a proper education to students and finding people to fill other roles in schools.
Comparison to previous years
USD 473 Superintendent Kevin Suther sees the biggest difference from pre- and post- pandemic substitute work is the amount of days.
"The biggest difference is when a teacher needs to be gone a sub may be needed for at least five days when it involves Covid-19," Suther said. "This is better now because it used to be 10 days in the past."
USD 393 Superintendent Justin Coup finds that besides a need for more substitutes, he also needs to get creative with his current staff. Coup, himself, became a substitute school nurse for a week.
"We have two subs that we've hired full time that are here every day," Coup said. "So, what we look at is that every day we can make sure we are even...We may steal teachers from a specialist class and have them not have that specialist for the day. We're having to find different ways, we want to make sure that we don't make sure that we don't use that same teacher all the time."
USD 435 Superintendent Greg Brown looked to his administrators to describe how substituting has changed since 2020.
"We are currently in a much higher state of need for subs that we were pre-pandemic," Abilene High School principal Dr. Ben Smith said. "Adult illnesses and length of quarantines have increased the number of days that we have teachers out."
"For our building, the sub shortage has been a consistent concern for the last several years," Mckinley Elementary principal Mindy Sanders said. "In my opinion, the pandemic increased the challenge, but didn't necessarily make the struggle better or worse. The struggle has been the same for some time."
"Substitutes are in demand," Eisenhower Elementary principal Ethan Gruen said. "The district sub list has 37 subs, however, after I remove all full time subs and folks are not comfortable with elementary kids, there are only about 12 individuals to call. Of the 12, some are never available as they are tied up with other districts and one that is only available in the afternoon. With the increase in sickness, we have had to get a little more creative with how we are covering classes."
In his view, Brown sees the need for substitutes, however believes the district isn't in a state of emergency just yet.
"I don't believe we're at a state of emergency, mostly because we have a lot of people willing to do lots of things," Brown said. "Shoot, I was mopping the floor the other day. That's kind of what we have to do."
Outside the classroom
For Suther, he sees needs across the school for substitutes, but his biggest concern comes with bus drivers in the district.
"We can always use more substitutes for the classroom, kitchen staff and bus drivers," Suther said. "We are currently advertising for more bus drivers and our staff will help the person when it comes to preparing for the CDL test or driving portion. Our district will also help to pay for the certification."
In Solomon schools, the custdional and food service jobs are outsourced to companies that try to hire within the area to cover the labor shortages.
"We're always looking for people to help out custodial wise, we've been very short staffed custodial," Coup said.
For the Abilene school district, Smith spoke on the lack of para-professionals and custodians to fill needed positions.
"In addition to needing teacher subs, we have seen a need for help with para-professionals and custodial shifts," Smith said. "We have been ok with the kitchen for the most part recently at the high school."
"It's really reflective of the hiring concerns that everybody's having right now," Brown said. "There doesn't seem to be an overabundance of applications for whatever job is open, whether that's in the schools or in the business sector. Everybody I have visited with it's in a hiring position is challenged with finding very many applicants for the positions that have openings"
How to become a substitute
To become a substitute for local schools, a person will need to be over the age of 18 years old, have a high school diploma and pass a background check.
"KSDE did approve for the rest of the year for someone to apply for a temporary emergency authorized license," Suther said. "This must include a background check and the person needs to meet with our Human Resources Director (Andrea) Koster to verify that we approve of the person being a USD 472 substitute. This could be someone retired, possibly with a flexible work schedule that has some free days to substitute or needing a job currently."
While Coup can see the need for the temporary declaration, he tries to make sure any substitutes hired by Solomon schools have experience with children.
"There are several school districts that are doing job fairs for (substitutes)," Coup said. "We are not doing that at this point, because we can fill it with certified substitute teachers...I've got a couple parents that have run daycares at home that are going to get licensed, which is great."
Comments to their
Suther said in the concern of substitutes and filling roles, "we did have more substitutes this year sign up than last year and appreciate their commitment to helping our youth and teachers."
Coup wanted to assure parents that the district tries to find the best way to keep kids in the classroom and receive an education.
"I think all school districts right now are looking for help in any way," Coup said. "So whether that may be someone locally who has been a part of the education system before, like a retired teacher or parents who are running daycares, those people can step up and help out as we get through it. We are very fortunate that we have not had to look at shutting down school because of staffing issues. We have some flexibility because of our size to do some creative things that larger schools just can't do, so that's the blessing that we have. The one thing I want to make sure that remains are standards regardless of who's in the classroom....We're making sure that we vet (applicants) and they go through a rigorous training if we are going to put them in the classroom."
For Abilene, Brown wants to remind people that are interested in teaching to give substituting a chance.
"You know, substitute teaching is not for everybody," Brown said. "But, if anybody's had the inkling to get involved in young people's lives as a substitute teacher, it's a great opportunity."