Help in high demand: Billings schools look to entice substitute teachers during COVID-19

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Safely Back to School
Posted at 6:28 PM, Aug 21, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-21 20:29:13-04

BILLINGS- You might think starting the school year with remote learning would reduce the need for short-term substitute teachers.

However, it’s just the opposite in Montana districts still opting for in-person learning.

That is the case for School District 2 in Billings, where administrators say the need for help is in high demand because teachers are heading back to the classroom as the COVID-19 pandemic looms.

Superintendent Greg Upham says the district has developed a "call to action" to get substitutes in line for the upcoming school year.

“We want to put as much support in those classrooms as we possibly can, because we know we are going to experience significant learning gaps,” he said.

That’s because getting substitute teachers in line and ready to go is often hard already, but during a pandemic the task seems more difficult.

“Everyone knows that schools for the past- gosh, I want to say, 6, 7, 8 years- have had difficulties maintaining a substitute pool that's adequate for the need,” he said.

If teachers contract the virus or are forced to quarantine themselves, it could pose a staffing problem for the district.

So Upham is enticing substitutes with extra pay and listing the job with $125 for non-certified substitutes and $150 for those who are certified.

“Certified staff that we want on hand to do a dual role, which would be to fill in as a substitute when needed, but also available for any staff member that may have to be out for an extended period,” he said.”I'm not worried about hiring extra staff and having them stand around. These are licensed teachers who we need in the classroom immediately so there will be no standing around.”

But finding substitutes remains a challenge for every school in Montana.

At the Lockwood School District, administrators also plan to pay for full-time extra help with the use of federal coronavirus relief dollars.

“And we can utilize them as needed,” said Lockwood Superintendent Tobin Novasio. “You know, we know that we're going to have teachers get sick, absent of the COVID. We know we're going to have maternity leaves and those types of things. And so the idea is to try and bring those people into the fold, since we have those extra resources this year.”

Upham admits the district’s plans can always change because the pandemic has changed the way everyone is doing everything.

“We realize everything is at the mercy of the virus,” he said.

But here’s where Upham says he feels good about going into the school year with enough substitute teachers to handle any changes that may take place.

He says he recently checked in substitute pools and asked about the likelihood that temporary substitutes would come back into the classroom.

He said there was a low percentage of individuals who said they would not be willing to.