BERRYVILLE — A substitute teacher shortage is prompting Clarke County Public Schools to find alternative ways of keeping classes supervised when regular teachers are absent.
Monday night, the Clarke County School Board approved the hiring of three “permanent substitutes” to work at two elementary schools for the remainder of the academic year.
D.G. Cooley Elementary was given permission to hire two. Boyce Elementary, which has fewer students, received permission to hire one.
Those substitutes will work on days that students are in classes. They will be paid $100 a day. When they’re not needed to oversee classes, they will help teachers with lessons or do other assigned tasks, such as monitoring cafeterias during lunch periods.
If the elementary schools need more help on a particular day, they will try to obtain people from the division’s list of potentially available substitutes.
Johnson-Williams Middle School and Clarke County High School will continue turning to that list. They also will continue allowing teachers, during their planning periods, to cover classes for absent coworkers.
To compensate them for forfeiting their planning periods, middle school teachers will be paid an extra $40 and high school teachers an additional $25 per class period, as approved by the board.
Elementary teachers generally aren’t able to cover others’ classes because they don’t have planning periods, CCPS Superintendent Chuck Bishop explained in a Wednesday email.
“We’ve had to pull instructional assistants to cover teaching vacancies at the elementary level more so than teachers,” Bishop said. Assistants who’ve done so also will see a little more in their paychecks, he said.
The board approved giving all CCPS teachers two extra planning days Nov. 22-23. Students will be expected to learn asynchronously — on their own, outside of school — on those days, which are just before Thanksgiving break begins.
Since the school year started on Aug. 31, there have been 35 days when schools couldn’t obtain enough substitutes to cover for absent teachers. On those days, middle school and high school teachers have been asked to cover for colleagues during their planning periods, leaving them without time to plan upcoming lessons, according to Bishop.
In a typical year, the division has a list of 50-60 people approved by the board to serve as substitutes. Only about 25 people are on this year’s list, Bishop said, likely due to pandemic-related concerns.
Should the schools have to close for in-person learning again, it probably will be due to a lack of substitutes rather than COVID itself, he told the board.
Substitute teacher shortages are occurring throughout the region, Bishop said. Yet some divisions elsewhere are having to cope not only with substitute shortages, but also with shortages of regular teachers, he said. They’ve had to fill those vacancies from their substitute lists, thereby reducing the number of people available to fill in for absent teachers.
“We have no (permanent) teaching positions unfilled right now,” Bishop noted.
Efforts to recruit substitutes are continuing.
Other divisions across Virginia have converted regular school days into teacher planning days, too, information from the Virginia School Boards Association shows.
According to Clarke schools officials, teachers need time during the school day for tasks such as planning lessons and grading papers so they don’t have to take work home. Doing work at home reduces their time for family activities, which can cause stress that makes them dissatisfied with their jobs. In turn, they may leave the Clarke schools for jobs elsewhere.
Along with covering for absent colleagues, teachers also are “remediating (students) on the fly,” Bishop said. Because of learning setbacks caused by the pandemic last year, teachers are having to catch students up on concepts they should have learned then, in order for them to be successful with this year’s coursework.
“Our teachers are incredibly taxed” right now, said board Vice Chairwoman Katie Kerr-Hobert.
The two extra planning days will enable teachers to recover planning time lost due to covering others’ classes. The days also will enable students to catch up on current assignments or do activities that reinforce lessons they previously learned, Bishop said.
He acknowledged that the schedule change could burden some parents.
“I’m hopeful that parents can make arrangements for their children (to be cared for) on those two days,” he said.
Bag meals for those days will be provided ahead of time for students needing them, he added.