Schools across the region are experiencing staffing shortages with more severity than in past years, creating an additional layer of stress as staff and administrators try fill the gaps.
The situation is dire in some cases, said Pioneer Valley Regional School District interim Superintendent Patricia Kinsella, with staff members in her district working well outside of their job descriptions to keep their schools afloat.
“We have principals who are mopping floors and cleaning toilets,” Kinsella said.
The local reality is far from unique, as districts across the nation face staffing shortages made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic. According to a recent EdWeek Research Center survey, more than 75% of district leaders and principals say they’re experiencing at least moderate staffing shortages in their buildings this year.
District leaders in Franklin County and the North Quabbin region spoke to a need in particular for support staff, custodial and cafeteria workers, and substitute teachers.
In Greenfield, school officials have spoken publicly several times of the staffing shortages in the district. According to its online job posting site, the district is still in need of special education teachers, instructional assistants and substitutes.
“One of the challenges we’re facing districtwide is when we post positions, sometimes staff from one building apply to the other, and when we accept that transfer request, we create a vacancy in another place,” Greenfield School Department Superintendent Christina DeBarge previously noted.
Elizabeth Teahan-Zielinski, superintendent of Ralph C. Mahar Regional and Union 73 school districts, said she is in need of two long-term substitute positions, a special education teacher and a special education paraprofessional, as well as substitutes for teachers, nurses and cafeteria staff.
“The principals who have been here are saying it’s crazy,” she said. “It’s very difficult to find people, and people who come in aren’t necessarily staying.”
Darcy Fernandes, superintendent of the Athol-Royalston Regional School District, said in her district, she’s found it particularly difficult to fill special education and mathematics teacher positions.
“We’ve hired an additional person to work with our special education teachers coming in, so if they’re on an emergency waiver, they’re building their competency,” Fernandes said, referring to a state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) COVID-19 policy that temporarily waives certain requirements for hiring. “We’ve done the same thing with mathematics. … You have to provide support for them.”
Superintendent Darius Modestow of the Frontier Regional and Union 38 school districts said the districts are having trouble retaining teachers and finding people to fill those gaps.
“We don’t get the applicant pools like we used to and turnover’s the highest it’s ever been in our district,” he said. “The market’s tight.”
Modestow estimated the districts are facing “three times as much” turnover than in normal years and said much of it is due to teachers “retiring, leaving the profession and rotating from one school to the next.”