Schools in the Ozarks struggle to find substitute teachers

Local News

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – Local schools are feeling the effects of a nationwide labor shortage. 

The Springfield School District and the Bolivar School District say they are beginning the year still needing to hire dozens of substitute teachers.

“We are not immune to the workforce shortage that is impacting our nation,” says Penney Rector, Chief Human Resource Officer with SPS.

Rector tells Ozarks first many of the 900 substitutes the district had active at the end of the last school year are still deciding whether they will return to the classroom this fall.

In a typical year, SPS needs about 85 substitute teachers per day to fill educator absences. 

“This year is a slight increase in that. It’s not substantial, but it’s closer to that 100 on a given day that need to be absent due to illness or family illness, or perhaps COVID related or other needs,” says Rector.

The SPS District uses Penmac Staffing in Springfield to hire subs and fill schedules. Penmac Branch Manager Steven Sparkman says they’re currently filling about 85% of the district’s needs every month. 

“For the most part, this is a pandemic issue,” says Sparkman.

In Bolivar, officials say the district ended the last school year with 97 substitutes and now has 38 hired so far this fall. 

Assistant Superintendent T.C. Wall says schools at times are having to utilize paraprofessionals and interventionists to fill in the gaps.

“Sometimes we have to pull these people and put them into a regular classroom setting so we can fill that need,” says Wall.

Again this year, the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education is allowing retired teachers to come back to work full-time due to the need. 

Both SPS and Penmac say the new measure has been an essential tool to get experienced staff back in the classroom. 

“They kind of devoted their whole life to education, so they really enjoy being in the classroom. Honestly, they are some of the best substitutes you can have,” says Sparkman.

Meanwhile, the Bolivar School District says it has begun to hold in-person training for hired and potential substitutes to learn more about the position. 

While the district says it hasn’t seen many retirees come back, Walls says she hopes advertising open positions will bring in a new pool of applicants.

“With COVID, it’s just a different environment. I think some people that would enjoy subbing, some of our retired teachers, they’re doing other things. They’re enjoying their retirements, and they’re choosing not to come back.”

If you’re interested in applying to be a substitute teacher in the Bolivar district, you can find more information here.

The Department of Education, also during the pandemic, began allowing alternative options for substitutes to get certified if they were lacking college credit.

While the Board of Education recently voted to keep the measure in place permanently, officials say the certification process won’t take effect again until 2022. 

If you’d like to learn more about the certification course or state requirements to become a substitute teacher, click here

Penmac staffing says it can get someone hired and in the classroom in about a week. Once a candidate applies, they will have to first pass a background check and drug screen to be hired. 

You can apply for SPS substitute teacher positions through Penmac here.

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