Nationally, an average of 5.2 percent of all teachers are absent on any given school day. Over $4 billion is spent annually by taxpayers to cover the cost of substitutes. More disturbing is that 77 percent of American school districts do not offer substitute training and 56 percent hire subs without face-to-face interviews.With growing demands for accountability and correlation of student achievement with teacher effectiveness, the federal government is now involved: the Substitute Teaching Improvement Act is before Congress for federal funding of substitute training. Additionally, the Department of Education has proposed that schools be required to report teacher absences to qualify for stimulus funding.
Newport News Public Schools (NNPS) in Virginia is well ahead of the curve. The school division wanted a better way to ensure the quality of its substitutes to maintain a high level of educational instruction for their 31,000 students, as well as to track absences of more than 5,000 contracted teachers and other staff. The district implemented an automated absence management and substitute placement solution, SubFinder?, 15 years ago. Before the automated system, hundreds of phone calls were manually placed beginning at 5:00 a.m. in an effort to fill empty classrooms; the district places up to 850 substitutes per week. Now teachers and other instructional staff report their absences to SubFinder, and the system utilizes both the phone and web to find an appropriate substitute. Teachers may request or prearrange classroom coverage with a preferred substitute. This not only streamlines the process, but benefits the students by placing the best qualified substitute in the classroom.
Regina Harris, Human Resource Compliance Supervisor, comments, "That's a wonderful thing for a teacher. They want to make sure their lesson plans are being followed. They can be off that day and they know their kids are in good hands. It's the type of system that enables building administrators, clerical staff, and even teachers to focus on more important matters—it's one less thing to worry about. And it allows you to put the best sub in the classroom."
Virginia has established standards for substitute teachers: a minimum age of 18, a high school diploma or GED and passing a criminal background check. NNPS substitute requirements are more stringent, and include a minimum of two years of college credits (although they prefer four-year degrees), a criminal background check, interviews and substitute training. Many of the district's long-term substitutes are professionals, including retired teachers or credentialed teachers. Additionally, the district has requested feedback from teachers and subs to maintain the best pool of subs and to make adjustments as needed to maintain a high level of quality instruction and meet the framework of the district's curricula.
SubFinder allows teachers to attach lesson plans and notes, as well as offers reporting functionality. "The schools have access to more reporting methods," says Harris, "more information is available at their fingertips..." Teacher absenteeism is tracked and trends can be identified.
"We are very pleased with the system. Our fill rates are good, teachers and subs like it, and it has helped manage our substitutes overall," states Harris. By automating the absence management and substitute placement process, the district focuses more time on recruiting the best qualified substitutes and invests time and money to provide orientation and professional development.
For more information about SubFinder, please visit www.subfinder.com.