School works to manage staff shortages


Christy Thomas

Students are learning Algebra 2 material from math teacher Sarah Asmar. Because there are two vacancies in the math department, Asmar has been taking on larger class sizes. “I’ve never taught a class of 50 students [in just one period], but I’m using it as a learning experience,” Asmar said.

Though the school experienced a spike in staff shortages after the holiday break, the administration has made efforts to offset the absences. Currently, the school has two unfilled full-time teacher positions. 

“We’ve got 160 teachers, and we usually have 10 absences per day, which is a very manageable number,” principal Amy Boughton said. “However, the spike in [COVID-19] positivity happened when we came back from the holiday break, [and] we were averaging 25 to 30 absences a day. It was just a lot for everybody to cover.”

Though the district does allow staff to come back after five days if they are symptom-free or if they tested negative for COVID-19, Boughton said that it is taking longer than the five days allotted for teachers to recover. Moreover, due to staff shortages, LISD closed the district from Jan. 26-30. 

“We have seen a dip since we were out those three days for COVID-19, ” Boughton said. “[Teacher absences] also decreased a little bit after this snow outage last week. Thankfully, we seem to be close to getting back to a reasonable number.”

Currently, there are two vacancies in the math department due to Geometry teachers Joan Richardson’s and Chris Dunlap’s departures. A permanent sub is covering one math class, and the remaining portions of the math classes have been split between Algebra 2 teacher Sarah Asmar and Precalculus and Statistics teacher Matthew Garza. 

“It’s definitely different,” Asmar said. “I wouldn’t say it’s necessarily hard because I like to challenge myself. I’ve never taught a class of 50 students [in just one period], but I’m using it as a learning experience. I’m just here for the kids.”

The district is also seeing a shortage of substitute teachers. To compensate for the vacancies, the LISD Board of Trustees approved a contract with a third-party company, Education Management and Staffing Solution, on Dec.13 to increase the district’s substitute fill rate. 

“That was one of the biggest struggles in the fall, [because] there weren’t enough subs to cover all the absences,” Boughton said. “At one point, we had one of the executive directors of learning and teaching serving over here. It was a collective effort across the district to get these campuses covered, so the board approved a new substitute system right before the holiday break. Instead of our own pool of subs, we’re now working with a company, and they have a much higher success rate.” 

Secretary Vicky Olivier is responsible for keeping track of staff attendance. Boughton said that her work was crucial for dealing with teacher absences. 

“It takes time from other responsibilities,” Olivier said. “There’s a lot of considerations and bigger picture stuff that we have to think about, but our awesome staff members are covering teachers’ classes themselves and jumping in there when you need someone.”

The district has allowed each school to be creative with the issue of increasing staff absences, such as blending classes. Moreover, for teachers, the pay to cover a class period has increased from about $50 to $60. 

“I was really hopeful that this year was going to be entirely different, and in some aspects, it has been better,” Boughton said. “One thing that it has taught all of us is that we can be adaptable. I am hopeful as we keep learning how to adapt and deal with different situations that we’re only going to keep getting better at dealing with the virus being a part of our lives.”