ALBEMARLE — Stanly County Schools has posted repeated calls for applicants for a number of positions — especially substitute teachers, cafeteria workers and bus drivers — over the last couple months. The posts direct those interested to reach out to Brittany McIlwaine, an ESS account manager. ESS is a school staffing company that contracts with SCS.
Substitute teachers have been a particularly vital position in districts across the country during the COVID-19 pandemic because of frequent quarantines that take full-time teachers out of their classes for extended periods. The inability to fill these extra sub positions has left many districts short staffed.
“Due to the pandemic, we’ve got COVID challenges all around, and there’s a huge need for substitutes this year,” SCS Superintendent Dr. Jarrod Dennis told SCJ in a Sept. 3 interview. “And it’s not just us; it’s all across North Carolina, especially when I talk to other superintendents in other districts.”
Dennis said that while they were able to fill all 160 substitute positions they wanted to carry last year, it has been more difficult this year to find people to hire.
“This year it’s gone down drastically, and it’s been declining since the beginning of school,” Dennis said, adding they’d ideally want at least 40 more than the 130 they have now. “A normal year we’d have 160, but now we’re down 30. But really we need even more than that in a COVID year, because then we have even more people out than usual.”
According to the COVID case and quarantine data on the district’s website, for the week of Aug. 22 to 28, there were 418 students quarantined for exposure, with 65 of them testing positive, and 67 staff are quarantined, with 18 of them positive.
Dennis said some of the drop in hiring was due to the labor shortages seen across the board right now, but a lot of it is also down to fear from potential applicants.
“You’ve got to realize too that with subs, we have a lot of retired individuals that are subs as well, retired teachers,” Dennis said. “And these older individuals, being at an advanced age, they don’t want to work in a pandemic because it puts them at a greater risk of contracting COVID, maybe in a breakthrough case, even if they’re vaccinated.”
In addition to substitutes, which are the biggest need, SCS also has other positions that are going unfilled.
“We have a great need in really all of our classifieds [support roles within a school] — so bus drivers are a big need and so are child nutrition workers,” said Dennis.
McIlwaine, the ESS staffing professional, has been hard at work to help fill some of these roles.
“It’s not uncommon for school systems to use third parties to help fill positions in a lot of classified areas,” Dennis said of the district’s contract with ESS. “But Brittany works in our office, so it’s not like there’s somebody we have to teleconference with. She’s actually embedded in central office and,” he said speaking to McIlwaine, “you live around here.”
He added that McIlwaine has the highest fill-rate of anyone in ESS. When it comes to substitute teachers in particular, they are now trying to incentivize new applicants by offering an $100 bonus to the first 15 hires upon completing “10 days in the first month of ESS employment.”
“We found that we are starting to get more applicants through our applicant tracking system,” McIlwaine said of how the $100-bonus offer was going so far. “So, yes, we are generating more interest.”
Dennis said, even with the large staffing needs, when comparing Stanly County Schools to other districts, “we’re in a lot better shape than they are — a lot better shape.”
“When I’ve talked to some of the retired folks when they’re nervous about coming into the schools, I let them know that this is the cleanest the schools have ever been,” McIlwaine said. “They’re cleaning them every single day, making sure our staff stays monitored and our students.”
Dennis added, “We sanitize the schools, and we use all the mitigating strategies that we can to keep our employees safe.”
Those interested in applying to be a substitute teacher in SCS, can apply at the link here.