Commentary: New year brings staffing concern, COVID spikes to Delaware schools

By Mark Baxter
Posted 1/12/22

As the winter holidays recede, for many of our teachers, it already feels like June. Despite hopes that this school year would usher a return back to normal, we know that it’s been anything but …

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Commentary: New year brings staffing concern, COVID spikes to Delaware schools

Posted

As the winter holidays recede, for many of our teachers, it already feels like June. Despite hopes that this school year would usher a return back to normal, we know that it’s been anything but that. Masks are still on. Staff shortages and burnout are real. Working to support kids, families and communities where they need to be — academically, mentally and emotionally — can be draining. And it’s been nonstop since the first day of school.

As the year’s first snowstorm earlier this month met with “potential operational concerns” from districts like Brandywine, shifts to virtual learning at Capital, bus driver issues at Appoquinimink and others, a looming crisis felt closer than ever.

We face a short- and long-term crisis of ensuring that COVID-19 does not set back the potential of an entire generation of children, which is why we must focus on providing support now to get through the immediate recruitment-and-retention crisis. Rodel is committed to working on long-term systemic educator pipeline issues to support teachers and students. We are proud to support the work of our higher-education and district partners in strengthening the pathway to become a teacher. This includes the pilot of a new, high-quality curriculum in our high school Teacher Academy Pathway, supporting the creation of professional networks for aspiring teachers at each of Delaware’s teacher-preparation programs and continuing to improve and grow teacher residency programs across the state.

We know this work will not fix the here-and-now problem of burnout during COVID-19, which is why we will continue to work with partners in the legislature, the Delaware Department of Education (DDOE), districts and institutions of higher education to bring more funding and resources to support teachers and staff.

But what about the immediate crisis?

Urgency is catching on nationwide, where states and districts are scrambling to place educators inside classrooms. California is offering higher pay for substitutes and paid professional development. Some states are offering $2,000 signing bonuses for new educators, while others are eliminating barriers like application fees.

In Delaware, schools like EastSide Charter School are offering parents cash to drive students to school to help combat a bus driver shortage. Other schools have turned to specialists (e.g., reading specialists) to serve as substitutes or have asked teachers to cover each other’s classes.

Other solutions proposed include finding additional funding to support long-term substitutes in full-time positions with benefits or creating incentives for substitutes, like increased pay for committing to longer time frames.

Some policy changes could include potential emergency regulations, such as:

  • Allowing student teachers to serve as teachers of record on an emergency certification, similar to Alternate Route to Teacher Certification candidates.
  • Accept other states’ specialist certifications using reciprocity (a strategy Delaware has used for teachers).
  • Shorten the “substantial break in service” for retirees statute (currently six months) to allow more to return to the classroom — at least on a temporary basis.

Mark Baxter is the senior program director at Rodel, a statewide nonprofit that partners with policymakers, the private sector, philanthropy and practitioners to make systemic changes that can improve students’ lives.