LAS CRUCES – Las Cruces Public Schools and Gadsden Independent School District have each asked the state to provide substitute teachers through the National Guard.
New Mexico this year began a program putting members of the New Mexico National Guard through substitute training and placing Guardsmen and Guardswomen in classrooms to help mitigate teacher shortages due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"We’ve heard from multiple districts that a lack of substitute teachers is among the most critical staffing issues right now, and they’ve asked for the state’s support," said New Mexico Public Education Department Secretary Kurt Steinhaus in a Jan. 19 news.
This "Supporting Teachers and Families" initiative asks both National Guard members and state employees to substitute teach to help keep schools in-person. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham volunteered as a substitute teacher in an elementary classroom Wednesday.
The Associated Press reports that New Mexico is the first state in the country to ask National Guard members to work in schools.
Source NM reported Monday that 59 National Guard volunteers completed preliminary background checks and licensure to begin substituting in classrooms. Earlier this week, Farmington, Bloomfield, Aztec, Clovis, Portales, Las Vegas, Questa, Raton, Springer, Hondo, Silver City, Cobre, Deming, Alamogordo, Loving, Hagerman, Artesia, Hobbs, Los Lunas, Moriarty and Estancia received volunteers.
In Doña Ana County, LCPS and GISD have each asked for support, while Hatch Valley Public Schools is nearly fully staffed.
LCPS hopes to get National Guard subs soon
LCPS, the second largest district in the state, is doing what it can to balance vacancies through the pandemic.
In August, the district had a pool of just 129 substitute teachers. Ideally, it would have about 1,000 subs. Using different strategies over the next six months, the district brought the number of subs available to 700.
"We were doing pretty good before the Christmas break, we had a lot of positions filled, and we also were able to get a lot of long-term and permanent substitutes in place," said Coordinator of Human Resources Jeff Spaletta. "But in the last few weeks, things have gotten a little bit worse as far as the new virus (variant) and quarantines."
LCPS has reached out to the National Guard for substitute support. Spaletta said there's no target number of volunteers in mind. LCPS will be happy to accept any aid it can.
Spaletta said he learned through communicating with the PED and National Guard that the initiative's goal was to help rural school districts first.
Any National Guard member who wishes to volunteer as a substitute will go through a background check and the substitute licensure process. Once that is complete, they will be sent to the district they are assigned. The state will be accommodating them in a hotel or other living situation while they are helping the district.
Spaletta said once LCPS receives a National Guard member, the district will put them through a five-hour onboarding process.
"(The state) told me that they would consider us for this week, so I haven't heard back from them yet," he said Wednesday.
Spaletta said high schools have the greatest need for subs right now, but will look at which schools to prioritize when volunteers come in.
LCPS has 189 vacancies, LCPS Chief Human Resource Officer Miguel Serrano told the school board on Jan. 18. Out of over 3,000 employees, this is a 6 percent vacancy rate.
The district has 23 teacher vacancies, 46 educational assistant vacancies, 19 custodial vacancies, three maintenance worker vacancies, 10 secretary vacancies and 88 nutritional service staff vacancies.
"We spread out our workforce to make sure that every campus has enough people to do the work," Serrano said. "We reallocate our resources, but we are definitely trying with with our current job fair to fill all of them up."
LCPS continually hosts virtual job fairs. To find out more information, contact Spaletta at 575-636-8786 or email email@example.com.
Gadsden Independent School District seeks substitutes from National Guard
GISD, which serves students in southern Doña Ana County, is the fourth-largest district in the state. Out of about 1,900 staff members, there around 64 vacancies, a 3.4 percent vacancy rate.
"We have a lot of turnover historically, and even more so now," said Superintendent Travis Dempsey.
Currently, GISD has 19 teacher vacancies, 17 instructional aide vacancies, 13 custodial vacancies, 15 nutritional staff vacancies and a couple of nurse vacancies, according to Dempsey.
Dempsey noted there has been a sharp increase in mid-year teacher retirements, even compared to last academic year. He said this could largely be due to the seemingly never-ending pandemic.
"I really do think COVID has had an impact onon our teachers," Dempsey said. "I think those that might have (retired) — had the pandemic not occurred — probably would have kept going.… I think right now, it feels like it's too big a risk at some level."
Dempsey said that this increase in retirements is "more or less" driving the school to seek assistance from the National Guard.
The district has applied for 30 National Guard volunteers to substitute, but Dempsey said he will take whatever the state can offer.
"We've actually be able to increase our sub pool over the course of the last two years, but I think the piece there is the quarantines," Dempsey said. "I could have a school with 0 students positive, but if I get 45 percent of that staff in quarantine, I can't supervise kids. Then we have to shift to remote. That factor has hit us really hard."
Since school resumed in early January, GISD has had to move 11 different schools remote for brief periods.
Hatch Valley Public Schools balances staff
In the northern part of the county, Hatch Valley Public Schools Superintendent Michael Chavez said the district is doing okay as far as vacancies go.
Out of 197 staff members, there are only six open positions, a 3 percent vacancy rate.
HVPS is by far the smallest district in Doña Ana County, with about 1,200 students enrolled, compared to GISD's 12,600 and LCPS' 23,800.
"Currently, we are very fortunate to be fully staffed with our teaching positions," HVPS Superintendent Michael Chavez wrote in an email. "I do have one long-term sub in a classroom however, we are not looking to replace that position this school year. All of our open positions are support positions."
HVPS is looking to hire three educational assistants, one bus driver and one custodian. The district also has one special education teaching position vacant.
HVPS has not made a decision on whether they will ask for National Guard assistance.
This article originally appeared on Las Cruces Sun-News: Las Cruces, Gadsden school districts seek National Guard substitutes