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Stewartville Public Schools launches 'Subs for Subs' initiative to ease labor shortage

Although the pandemic has contributed to the issue, administrators say they've felt the shortage for several years.

01 Substitute Teachers in Stewartville
Substitute teacher Hannah Bauer hands out a math worksheet to kindergarteners Wednesday, Jan. 19, 2022, at Bonner Elementary School in Stewartville. "It's not uncommon for us to have more positions open than we have substitutes," said Principal Zane McInroy. He said two subs were working at the school on Wednesday.
Joe Ahlquist / Post Bulletin
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STEWARTVILLE — There were no longer enough substitute teachers in Stewartville Public Schools, so the district went out looking for them. It’s now starting to see the results of that effort.

In December, Superintendent Belinda Selfors put out a call to the community, asking for people with at least a four-year bachelor’s degree to consider signing up as a substitute teacher. The district dubbed the initiative “Subs for Subs.”

“We are seeking any parents, grandparents, or other adults in our communities who might be interested in giving back to our schools by being employed as a substitute teacher or paraprofessional,” Selfors wrote in a monthly update to families.

Since the district put out the call, they've had 11 people begin the process of becoming licensed to substitute teach, providing a breath of fresh air for a district that was beginning to really feel the strain.

One of the results of putting out an open call for new substitute teachers is that the applicants may not necessarily have a background in education. Selfors seemed unphased at that, saying there's also a learning curve for new teachers just starting out in their careers.

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02 Substitute Teachers in Stewartville
Substitute teacher Hannah Bauer helps kindergarteners Hallie Timmerman, left, and Adalynn Elpert with a math worksheet at Bonner Elementary School on Wednesday, Jan. 19, 2022, in Stewartville. "It's not uncommon for us to have more positions open than we have substitutes," said Zane McInroy, the school's principal. McInroy said two subs were working at the school on Wednesday.
Joe Ahlquist / Post Bulletin

Even though they may not have much experience in education, Selfors said they will hopefully be dedicated to the schools since they're "Stewartville folks."

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"We're grateful that we have community members who are willing to step up into this role," she said.

The license that will allow the community members to substitute is called a “short call sub license,” which will last for three years.

In order to qualify, the applicants have to have a background check and have a four-year bachelor’s degree. The license allows them to teach for up to 15 days in a row.

The district held an information session for the potential subs. They gave tours of the schools. They were able to talk to teachers and existing staff.

“We removed as many barriers as possible,” Selfors said.

03 Substitute Teachers in Stewartville
Substitute teacher Hannah Bauer plays a math game with kindergarteners at Bonner Elementary School Wednesday, Jan. 19, 2022, in Stewartville. "It's not uncommon for us to have more positions open than we have substitutes," said Zane McInroy, the school's principal. McInroy said two subs were working at the school on Wednesday.
Joe Ahlquist / Post Bulletin

Although the labor shortage is not limited to Stewartville, the district was beginning to really feel its impact. Selfors described one recent day when 11 substitute teachers were needed, but only two were available. She described it as being on “the edge of a crisis.”

When that happens, the schools have to get creative: They may have to combine classes, or a teacher has to cover another class during the time they’d normally be preparing for their own lesson. Sometimes, they’d ask a specialist to sit in on classes.

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There are ebbs and flows to the district’s needs. Some days are tighter than others when it comes to the number of teachers gone. Zane McInroy, principal of Bonner Elementary, said it’s not uncommon for his school to have to get creative with some of those alternative methods of staffing.

04 Substitute Teachers in Stewartville
Substitute teacher Hannah Bauer dances with kindergarteners after their snack time at Bonner Elementary School on Wednesday, Jan. 19, 2022, in Stewartville. "It's not uncommon for us to have more positions open than we have substitutes," said Zane McInroy, the school's principal. McInroy said two subs were working at the school on Wednesday.
Joe Ahlquist / Post Bulletin

"I would say over the last three years is when we really felt the crunch," McInroy said. "And this year, for some reason, has really been the toughest one."

Selfors said that while the pandemic has been a factor in the labor shortage, there are other contributing situations as well.

“Not all of our absences are because of COVID,” Selfors said. “I think it’s exasperated because of COVID.”

05 Substitute Teachers in Stewartville
Substitute teacher Hannah Bauer plays a math game with kindergarteners at Bonner Elementary School Wednesday, Jan. 19, 2022, in Stewartville. "It's not uncommon for us to have more positions open than we have substitutes," said Zane McInroy, the school's principal. McInroy said two subs were working at the school on Wednesday.
Joe Ahlquist / Post Bulletin

Jordan Shearer covers K-12 education for the Post Bulletin. A Rochester native, he graduated from Bemidji State University in 2013 before heading out to write for a small newsroom in the boonies of western Nebraska. Bringing things full circle, he returned to Rochester in 2020 just shy of a decade after leaving. Readers can reach Jordan at 507-285-7710 or jshearer@postbulletin.com.
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