Assistant Principal Jon Hurst filled in as a substitute teacher on Oct. 12 amidst a district-wide substitute teacher shortage. Photo by Kevin Doan.

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HBUHSD scrambles to find substitutes amid national shortage

The Huntington Beach Union High School District recently struggled to cover substitutes at several high schools.
<a href="https://highschool.latimes.com/author/3nsh/" target="_self">Zander Sherry</a>

Zander Sherry

December 18, 2021
Since the pandemic, school districts around the country are dealing with a shortage of substitute teachers forcing many schools, Fountain Valley High School included, to adapt quickly. Teachers and administrators have had to make decisions and compromises since the beginning of the 2020-2021 school year, in order to provide consistency for the student body of FVHS.

“A lot of teachers retired last year, which created new job openings,” guidance secretary Kristen Campbell said. “We lost a lot of the subs because they became teachers and some subs retired as well.”

Dr. Carolee Ogata, deputy superintendent of human resources at Huntington Beach High School District, emailed teachers on Nov. 1 with a list of how many teachers have been absent throughout the week on average since Sep. 1. It revealed that on some days, over 80 teachers were absent district-wide, and in September and October, the weekly average of these vacancies almost doubled.

“The weekly average has steadily risen from 38 absences for the week of August 30 to 74 for the week of October 25. That shows close to a doubling of the weekly average of teacher absences over a period of nine weeks,” Ogata wrote in the email.

And in preparation for expected absences on Veterans Day, she also asked teachers to do their part and only take necessary days, otherwise multiple classes could be moved to places like the cafeteria, which she said would be, “the worst possible scenario for students.”

To avoid such a scenario, Campbell spent two weeks searching for substitutes to cover teacher absences on the Friday following Veterans Day.

“I have emailed, called subs and even called other campuses to see if I could borrow a resident sub of theirs. On the actual day, we had 12 subs for 16 absences,” Campbell said. “Admin covered classes, WHS and VVHS sent us a sub and we had our subs working in multiple classrooms.”

Typically, the Frontline app allows substitute teachers in the district to choose which teacher absences they can cover, based on their credentials and the district’s requirements. If a job is not picked up, resident substitutes or on-campus substitutes who can fill in for last-minute jobs are brought in.

Substitutes respond to the shortage

Active substitutes at the school, who are familiar with the district’s substitute policy, also noticed the rise in demand for substitute teachers, especially after a virtual year.

“I’ve done this job for a couple years now and our busiest time in a normal school year would be March, April [and] May,” substitute teacher Daniel Payne said. “But it’s been extremely busy in September and October, much more than any other school year and that has to do with the shortage and the things that happened last year.”

With Regional Occupational Program teachers as well, substitute life management teacher Jennifer DeSousa had to fill in for short-term and long-term roles as many of the teachers were on a break.

“When I subbed for ROP before, there would be a couple of jobs available on a particular day,” DeSousa said. “But I’ve looked into the…Frontline app, and there [has] been like 31 available jobs, which is just amazing to me to see that many sub positions that they’re looking to fill.”

Because of the shortage, several FVHS administrators had to step up to fulfill absent teachers’ roles. DeSousa pointed out how it would become a “domino effect” if the administration had to continuously take over classes.

Pay increase for substitutes

Aside from the shortage within the district, other school districts are realizing the value of substitute teachers as the numbers decline. Earlier in the school year, starting on Oct. 1, the Long Beach Unified School District increased their payment for substitutes and issued a flat daily rate of pay of $192.

More recently, Ogata informed the district through email that effective on Nov. 29, the substitute flat daily rate of pay is to increase from $132 to $180. This applies to residents, day-to-day and long-term subs, but she also mentioned a half-day payment of $90.

Effect on the student body

The growing issue can affect the student body who may want teachers to constantly be in the classroom. For junior Benjamin Pham who had an administrator sub in on the Friday after Veterans Day, the absence of his teacher left many of his classmates feeling uncertain about their answers or the instructions on their assessment.

“We had a French [exam] that day and it added a little bit of stress because we didn’t have anyone to help us,” Pham said. “I felt bad about the whole situation because if it was on such short notice, it was probably something stressful for [our teacher].”

However, with a cooperative pool of substitutes at FVHS and efforts from FVHS administrators to fulfill all of the teacher absences, the school aims to lessen the gap in the substitute shortage so that staffing can be maintained.

“I feel [that] students need consistency in the classroom. Playing musical subs is not ideal,” Campbell said. “The sub shortage isn’t just in [Huntington Beach] or in [California], it’s nationwide.”

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