County schools facing serious shortage of substitutes

by Kate Evans

Morgan County Schools is in desperate need of substitutes, especially substitute teachers, due to the pandemic, said School Superintendent Kristen Tuttle.  Other big needs are for substitute bus drivers, nurses and custodians.

Tuttle has unfilled substitute vacancies every day in schools and on buses, which makes things very difficult now that kids are back in school five days a week.  On Monday, March 1 she had six unfilled substitute positions in the school system.

Impact on schools

Administrators watch over the personnel system in the evening and early morning to plan for their school day and make personal calls to substitutes begging them to come in if there are vacancies, Tuttle said.

If no substitutes are available for a teaching vacancy, maybe the assistant principal, Title I teacher, interventionist, special education teacher, principal or another   staff member can cover the class.  The school may have to piece together coverage with rotating teachers for each period all day, which is not ideal.

Transportation Director Tammy Painter said that whenever they don’t have any bus driver substitutes available, she, a bus mechanic and Bus Supervisor Tammi Wachter fill in as bus drivers.  Sometimes they have to combine bus routes due to vacancies.  They do whatever they have to do to keep the school buses rolling.

Widmyer Elementary Principal Rhett Beckman said when he doesn’t have substitutes, he has to pull others from their planning periods to cover a class for an absent teacher.  That takes away from them preparing for their own class.

Using teachers on planning as substitutes means there’s no continuity and a constant change in teaching style and people all day long. That’s an issue for kids at the elementary level.

Sometimes Beckman and Assistant Principal Ginnie Molnar cover a teacher’s class, which makes them unavailable for administrative duties with teachers, parents or meetings that will need rescheduled.

Beckman said if a custodian doesn’t have a fill-in, sanitizing will be done daily but other cleaning tasks may be saved for other days.

If there’s no nurse substitute, school medication aides will be pulled out of classes to give students medication.  The med aides will do first aid and Beckman and Molnar will, too.

Teacher may run classrooms without aides or an aide may bounce between two classrooms to help, he said.  It throws a wrench into the learning process since aides help with small group and one-to-one learning.

When the school is missing a cook,  Beckman said that he and Molnar have both served and packaged meals when the kitchen staff needed an extra set of hands.

“We definitely need people to step up and help,” Principal Beckman said of substitutes.

Morgan County Schools currently has 98 substitute teachers listed in their school directory, but Tuttle said that she has fewer than 20 substitute teachers that she can rely on if there’s a vacancy.  Some subs have dropped off the list and there are five long-term substitutes on the list.

Some substitute teachers don’t want to come in and teach in schools now because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Morgan County Schools can now hire individuals with associate degrees.  They are restricted to subbing 10 days in a row in the same position and work day-to-day, she said.  An associate degree level, bachelor’s degree or above substitute teacher needs to take a course in substitute teaching, Tuttle said.

West Virginia substitute teacher training classes are offered online by EPIC (Eastern Panhandle Instructional Cooperative-formerly RESA 8) and the West Virginia Department of Education (WVDE) offers free substitute teacher training which is also online and self-paced.  Once someone completes the substitute teaching classes, they apply for their substitute teaching certificate, Tuttle said.

Substitute service personnel like aides, bus drivers, cooks and clerks bid on the position and take a test.  If they pass the test, they get fingerprinted and put on board, Tuttle said.

Service personnel get on the substitute list to work their way to fulltime positions.  Recently a custodian went straight to a fulltime position from the street because of the shortage of custodians, Tuttle said.

Bus drivers take one to two months to get certified and must get their CDL license.  The school system brought on two permanent substitute bus drivers.  One went almost immediately into a permanent position, Tuttle noted.  There are only two substitute bus drivers right now.

Substitute nurses are another big need, she said.  Candidates need to have an RN (Registered Nurse) or BSN (Bachelor of Science in Nursing) degree.  It’s been a struggle to find nurses.

 

Tuttle is hoping that some local people that need work and who care about kids will apply for the substitute positions. The pay is good and depends on the person’s degree level.  There are a lot of highly educated people in the county who could really help and love kids, she said.

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