Super. Ramos Addresses Lack of Substitute Teachers in South Orange-Maplewood District

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It’s an issue that has reached a critical point in the South Orange-Maplewood School District and Superintendent Dr. John Ramos said the district is working to address it — the lack of substitute teachers.

At the Monday, December 19, 2016 South Orange-Maplewood Board of Education meeting, several parents spoke during public comments complaining about the lack of substitutes — particularly at Marshall School, which educates students grades K-2.

One teacher questioned whether there had been a change in the hiring of substitute teachers this year, saying, “There is suddenly not enough substitute teachers. [Full-time] teachers are being asked to fill the void.” She described classroom teachers taking in extra students to their classes, providing desks and chairs and floor space, or losing prep time to cover other teachers’ classes “The teachers are now unable to provide the quality instruction that we the teachers have put Maplewood [and South Orange] on the map for.”

A Marshall School parent said that the shortage of substitute teachers had impacted  her child’s class three times in two weeks. “You cannot have a school without teachers,” said the parent, who complained that “breaking up students in groups of 5 to 7 and adding them to other classes is stressful for students and difficult for teachers.”

In some cases, she said, it left the children in tears.

Another parent described volunteering in the school on a day when seven classrooms were impacted by the lack of substitutes. She said she saw one kindergarten teacher teaching 40 students and that her daughter’s inclusion class had another seven children added that day.

Board of Ed President Elizabeth Baker noted that the Board was also concerned about the issue and had received increasing comments from the community and from teachers about the lack of subs.

Ramos said that the substitute shortage was an issue that was “not unique to our district. There is a lack of substitutes and we are trying out best to address [it].””I can tell you that as you correctly point out there is no policy as it relates to splitting classes,” said Ramos. He explained that “the first line of attack is to try to have a substitute.  That has not changed and will never changed. The Second line of attack is to take advantage of preps so as not to displace students.” Ramos explained that “the practice of splitting classes” is “a last resort” and happens when there is “simply no other option. It is far from optimal and certainly something we do not want to do.”

So, what is being done to address the problem?

“We have determined we can pretty much accommodate 40 absences [across the district on any given day],” said Ramos. “Anything that tops that becomes a problem.” Ramos said that the district was “working with the provider, the agency that works with us to provide subs … to make sure that all of the procedures are clear to make sure available subs are placed in classrooms.” (Ramos did not give the name of the agency; a district spokeswoman said she would obtain the name and forward it to Village Green shortly.)

Secondly, Ramos said that the district is working with local colleges to try to increase the pool of substitute teachers by identifying students available to substitute.

Third, Ramos said, “We might want to consider a call to the community [for those] who are eligible to sub and simply do not know we have a problem.” Ramos addressed the audience at home: “Hello out there in TV land. We have a problem…. We urge you to come and apply.”

However, Ramos said there were also “internal procedures that we need to solve.” For example, previously the district waited for a certain number of eligible substitute applicants to come forward before “running them through training. That practice of periodic training has limited the pool. So we have scrapped that practice,” said Ramos.

“We are approaching [the problem] in a multifaceted way,” Ramos said. “We are not rolling over. We are attacking it in an aggressive manner.”

(Ramos also noted that the problem that is not specific to SOMSD. Notably, the Press of Atlantic City ran this story about the issue in New Jersey on November 1. The story noted that subs are paid significantly less that first-year full-time teachers by many agencies; it should be noted that SOMSD is not named in this article. Village Green will continue to follow up on this story.)


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