Important Update from Dr. Cain
November 4, 2020 ~ WSD Parents
I hope you all enjoyed the long weekend and had an opportunity for some rest and relaxation. I cannot begin to tell you how proud I am of this community - our students, our staff, and you - our parents - for your efforts to remain positive and support the work we do for our children. This is not the school year any of us envisioned, but we are committed to keeping student growth, as well as the health and safety of our community, at the forefront of everything we do. Our staff members are going above and beyond to cover absences and ensure we can provide the best possible learning experience for our students given the circumstances.
As you know, in recent weeks St. Charles County has experienced an increase in community transmission, and the resulting staff shortages related to COVID are significantly impacting our ability to run our busses and keep our schools open. I want you to know the steps we are taking to support keeping our busses running and our buildings open for in-person learning:
At the beginning of the year, the Board of Education approved nine contingency teaching positions to cover class sizes, virtual teachers, and other positions as needed (typically related to District growth) over the course of the year. We are using all of those contingency teaching positions for the following:
One will be used to hire the nurse for North Point High School. Since the school does not open until next fall, this individual will be supporting our nurses across the District in their contact tracing efforts.
Eight certified positions will be reallocated (for the remainder of this year only) to hire 15 full-time substitute teachers to help cover the shortages we are experiencing related to the pandemic.
Additionally, we are using an unfilled position in the Student Services Department to hire a Health Services Aide to also assist our school nurses.
Over the summer, we raised the substitute rate and we surveyed our substitutes to ensure that they were planning to return. We continue to hire for these and all support staff positions, and we have reached out to subs who are not currently taking jobs.
We have reached out to all student teachers with a bonus structure if they sub a specified number of days for us in January and February.
We have an emergency staffing plan in place, which we have been executing at multiple buildings over the last couple of weeks, where certified members of the Teaching and Learning and the Student Services teams have been deployed to cover classrooms not covered by substitute teachers. Additionally, buildings and departments are doing what they have always done to cover shortages by having instructional assistants and library assistants, and other certified staff members covering unfilled positions.
With regard to transportation, the drivers we have on hand are putting in extra hours and driving multiple routes. Additionally, office staff, dispatchers, routers, trainers, and administrators who have their CDL are all driving buses to cover open routes.
If necessary, we have a plan to move a school or schools to all virtual so we can deploy those staff members to other buildings to cover shortages. The plan prioritizes moving a middle and/or high school to all virtual to help keep elementary schools open, because our secondary students each have a device assigned to them and are better equipped to pivot quickly to virtual learning.
We have received 3,500 Abbott’s BinaxNOW rapid antigen test kits from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to test symptomatic school personnel for COVID-19. Our plan is to make those tests available to symptomatic employees who are interested in a rapid test. At this time, we do not plan to use the tests for students. If that were to change, we would only administer the test to a student at the request of a parent and with their consent.
These are just a few of the steps we are taking at the District level to help keep our schools up and running. As the number of cases and quarantines continue to rise in the District, we have to be prepared to pivot quickly when we do not have enough staff to safely keep a school open. I know that any change to a typical school day is difficult and presents hardships for families. Please know that the difficulties for families always weigh on our decisions. Today we had buildings with more than ten unfilled teaching positions, and that is simply not something we can sustain.
I cannot thank you enough for your continued flexibility and support. Please take care of yourselves and continue to use the universal precautions in place to keep us healthy and safe: frequent hand washing, social distancing, and wearing a face covering. We will get through this together if we keep student growth as our focus, while being mindful of the health and safety of our WSD family and community.
Curtis Cain, Ph.D.