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Substitute shortage gives elementary students an unscheduled vacation

Amanda Holt Miller
Post Independent Staff

PARACHUTE ” Students at Bea Underwood Elementary School and the Grand Valley Early Childhood Literacy Center get a previously unscheduled five-day weekend thanks to a shortage of substitute teachers.

Garfield County School District No. 16 administrators decided to close the schools, which serve kindergarten through sixth-grade students, this Thursday and Friday when they couldn’t find enough substitute teachers to fill in for those going to a literacy conference in Denver this weekend.

Twenty-two teachers from throughout the district will attend the Colorado Council International Reading Association conference in Denver.



“It’s a huge conference,” said Rhonda Dillon, District 16 curriculum coordinator. “It’s all about teaching reading and writing. It’s a really exciting, fun and worthwhile conference.”

Dillon said the conference draws teachers from New Mexico, Wyoming, Nebraska and Kansas and is probably the biggest one District 16 teachers attend.



“We routinely always attend,” she said. “This is not the first time we’ve closed the schools for this conference. Two years ago, we scheduled the days off. Last year, I think we closed. Three years ago we scheduled it.”

This year, school was scheduled for Feb. 2 and 3 with Monday, Feb. 6, off. But the district sent letters home to parents on Jan. 13 explaining that classes were canceled Feb. 2 and 3.

The problem in the past, like this year, is that there are too many teachers going to the conference and not enough substitutes to fill in for them.

“On any given day, it’s hard to find a substitute,” Dillon said. “And that’s for any district. But if you’re trying to find 22, that’s huge.”

Naomi Johnson, who’s in charge of human relations and payroll, said there are 36 substitute teachers in the district. Four of those are employees of the district in one capacity or another. That leaves 32 regular substitutes, and a lot of those are only available certain days of the week.

“It’s not a real large list,” Johnson said. “It’s frustrating for the secretaries to try to find someone sometimes.”

Some of the elementary school teachers who are not attending the literacy conference will fill in at St John Middle School and Grand Valley High School while teachers at that school are away at the conference.

Substitutes are in short supply in Colorado, according to a report from the National Education Association.

“It’s not that hard to become a substitute,” Johnson said.

All that’s required for a one-year license from the Colorado Department of Education is a high school diploma and a background check.

“They like to see that the person has experience working with children,” Johnson said.

She said the District 16 school board has to approve the substitute, and it can take four to six weeks to get a license back from the state.

District 16 pays substitutes $90 per day, $45 for half days and $22.50 for quarter days.

The district has not done anything to formally recruit substitutes. Most of them tend to be former teachers or parents who spend time in the schools and are encouraged to apply, Johnson said.

The grade schools will shut down again on April 20 so teachers can attend the Colorado Reading First conference as part of a requirement for a grant the district received, Dillon said.


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