Nixa Public Schools makes adjustments to fill substitute teacher need

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NIXA, Mo. — School districts here in the Ozarks are making good use of what was lacking just a couple of months ago: substitute teachers.

Districts like Nixa faced a shortage when staff members were in quarantine.

Mark McGehee, the Executive Director of HR at Nixa Public Schools, says at the start of the year, Nixa was able to fill just 80% of its positions.

Now, that number is in the upper 90’s.

“The COVID-19 pandemic really did create a difficult situation for us with subs, “McGehee.

McGehee says the pandemic gave his team two challenges.

“Number one, an increase in absences with quarantines that were happening, and sickness taking place,” McGehee said. “And our need for subs was greater.”

Problem number two, the district couldn’t meet that need.

“Due to the fact that several of those on the sub-pool maybe being in high-risk categories and not able to come in and sub,” McGehee said.

So Nixa started recruiting.

“Pulling in college students who maybe were interested,” McGehee said. “Maybe some that are in education programs. Maybe some that are in other programs. And just looking into the community for people who had time in their schedule.”

Steven Sparkman with PENMAC staffing says surrounding schools made other changes.

“Springfield would have students in elementary, middle school if their last name were “A” through “K,” they were in school Monday and Tuesday,” Sparkman said. “And then remote the other days. And then the rest of the alphabet they were in school Thursday’s, Friday’s. That helped alleviate some of the needs.”

The adjustments paid off, Nixa fills between 94 to 98 percent of its positions now.

“We definitely want to shoot for 100 percent fill rates,” McGehee said. “If you have that many subs and there are days you don’t need them all, several of our subs are also working in other districts. So maybe they’re needed in another area district. The larger that pool is we kind of help each other out.”

Sparkman says around the Ozarks, 96% of roles are filled.

“We can use all the subs we can get,” Sparkman said. “Even though the fill rate is good right now, there’s always a need for substitutes.”

The state has also helped out by reimbursing subs for job application and background check fees.

Also, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education offers a 22-hour training course online.

That course can be taken until the end of this month.

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