• Thu. May 19th, 2022

Stillwater Public Schools Hiring Substitute Teachers and Support Staff | Covid-19

Like most other districts, Stillwater Public Schools is struggling to find enough staff to keep its various school sites open as COVID-19 takes its toll on student and staff attendance.

“It’s the first thing you think about in the morning and the last thing you think about at night,” Acting Superintendent Gay Washington said. “What will the numbers be? How can we protect our children?

Although student absences have been high in some area districts, Stillwater’s student attendance rates have not been an issue, reaching about 90% at the high end, she said. But staffing remains a struggle.

The district was closed Friday based on COVID-19 projections and to take advantage of an extra day off already scheduled for Martin Luther King Jr. Day, so people who had been sick would have more time to heal. This did not have the impact hoped by the administrators of the SPS.

The district saw higher numbers earlier in the week, and one school site hit attendance in the 80s on Tuesday, Washington said. But some sites seemed to have stabilized.

Staff illness is not the only problem. But it magnifies a pre-existing condition.

The district already needed more bus drivers, support staff and substitute teachers before COVID-19 infection rates started to rise again and it is not alone in doing so.

“Every district in the state or country is struggling to recruit staff,” said SPS human resources director Bo Gamble.

There’s a domino effect when the infection spreads through the community, Washington said.

Even if a teacher or staff member is not sick, they may have to miss work if their child becomes ill or is exposed to the virus and needs to be quarantined, if their child attends another closed school, or if her child’s daycare must close.

SPS held job fairs for teachers and support staff last week and uses Kelly Educational Services, a recruitment company, to provide substitute teachers, Gamble said. The district is also recruiting internally to develop an additional supply of substitute teachers.

The requirements are simple: applicants must enjoy working with children and must be a high school graduate, be at least 18 years old, and be able to pass a criminal background check. Substitutes are not required to be certified teachers or hold a college degree.

Uncertified subs are paid $80 per day and those with teacher certification receive $85 per day.

The district selection process takes a few days to a week. The timeline for background checks depends on the number awaiting processing, he said.

Gamble thinks Tuesday’s announcement of Gov. Kevin Stitt’s guest educator program, which encourages state employees to volunteer as substitute teachers, could soon create a backlog for background checks, he urges so anyone interested in working as a substitute teacher avoids the rush.

“The sooner they apply, the sooner we can get them in,” he said.

Applicants can apply online at stillwaterschools.com and can go to the Board of Education building at 314 S. Lewis if they need to use a computer or need help applying, Washington said.

Once they’re hired, support is built into the system to ensure replacements get the help they need to succeed and students learn what they need to know, she said.

It may be difficult, but it is a cooperative effort.

Teachers are expected to leave valuable and relevant lesson plans when they’re out, which is critical, Washington said. Other teachers — whether from the same grade level or the same content team — step in to check with contractors and make sure they have what they need. The administrators are also there to help you.

“It takes a whole village to educate our children,” she says.

Gamble said people who don’t want to be substitute teachers can still help by working in a support position or as lunch or recess monitors.

District administrators had no idea about Stitt’s announcement and they don’t know how the guest educator program will work or what impact it will have, but they are grateful for any help they can get. They also hope it could lead to lasting relationships and help create more of a bridge between the school district and the community.

Until then, they will watch the numbers and continue to do their best to keep the children in school and meet their needs.

“It’s very close,” Washington said. “Everyday is always tight.”

Twitter: @mcharlesNP