Lawton Public Schools took action almost two years ago to address its shortage of substitute teachers, and administrators say the system is working.
In late 2021, the Board of Education signed off on a plan to hire ESS, an Arkansas-based company that provides substitute teachers for school districts and assuming all the tasks normally associated with such employees. LPS Chief Operating Officer Jason James said the district’s decision to hire a third party was a good one, explaining that hiring Every Student Succeeds has meant the district no longer employees its own subs.
“It works out really well for us,” he said, adding being able to provide substitute teachers or otherwise work around teacher absences has made the school day easier for administrators.
James said the private contractor is part of several techniques school administrators have adopted to ensure there are enough teachers to cover classes. The formal substitute teacher process works exceptionally well when teachers know in advance they won’t be attending school on a particular day. James said when a school has the recommended 72-hour warning of a teacher absence, there is a “90 percent success rate in hiring a sub.”
But, when real life intrudes and warnings come at the last minute, it’s more difficult.
“That number (success rate) drops significantly when same day requests are made,” James said, of the struggle principals face when warnings come at the last minute.
That means the district has put other actions into place, to include what James calls the district’s first line of defense. It’s actually two lines. One is a program that assigns each high school three discretionary aides, meaning workers who are applied to tasks at the principal’s discretion.
“That’s usually our first line of defense for same-day emergencies,” he said.
The second of those defensive tactics is using classroom teachers who are on their planning period, asking if they could cover a class during that time instead (and receiving a small stipend for the work). When that doesn’t work, “we double up,” meaning one teacher watches two classes at the same time, a less-than-desirable option, he said.
James said school districts are facing shortages in substitute teachers for the same reason there is a teacher shortage, adding the issue is compounded because subs may not necessarily have the training and practical experience in classroom management techniques.
“They’re not as equipped to deal with a classroom as well as a regular classroom teacher is. And, they don’t have a relationship with the kids,” he said, explaining classroom teachers develop relationships with their students and that helps them manage their classes and deter disruptive behavior. “Substitute teachers don’t have the skills or the relationships to do that, and that makes their job very difficult to do.”