Wichita school board hears about changes for substitute teachers

On an average day in Wichita schools, more than 6,000 students have a substitute teacher.

“That’s a lot of students … a lot of learning time,” said Charles Wakefield, director of recruitment, staffing and talent management for the Wichita district. “And that’s why it’s important we put quality substitutes into our classrooms.”

Over the past year and a half, district officials have worked with business leaders to study the substitute teacher program and make changes intended to recruit better subs, fill jobs more efficiently and reduce last-minute cancellations.

On Monday, Wakefield and Shannon Krysl, the district’s human resources director, explained some of the changes to the Wichita school board. Beginning this school year:

• The district has begun actively recruiting substitutes at job fairs, area colleges and elsewhere.

“In the past, we have waited for subs to come to us,” Wakefield said. “Now we recruit for subs just like we recruit for math teachers or special-ed teachers.”

• Substitutes must commit to work a minimum of 17 days per semester.

• Substitutes are limited to two cancellations per semester without proof of a medical or other emergency. If they cancel a subsequent job without proof, they risk being dropped from the district’s substitute pool.

• Substitute teachers are subject to the same professional dress guidelines and discipline standards as classroom teachers.

• Substitutes will receive training in modern classroom technology, such as smart boards, so they’re better able to deliver lessons.

“We’re making it a little harder to be a sub, in all honesty,” Wakefield said. “But doing it in a way that we’re getting higher-quality people and higher-quality teachers in our classrooms.”

Krysl said the district has a hard time finding subs for its priority and focus schools – schools that have been identified by the state as among the lowest performing. It’s also hard to find subs for “roving” teachers, such as elementary art or music teachers who work in two or more buildings each day.

One reason, Krysl said, is that substitute teachers get to choose when and where they work.

“We see that as a recruiting tool,” Wakefield said. “From the feedback we get from subs, they like that.”

He said the board should consider creating a rotating pool of contract teachers assigned to the substitute office to cover hard-to-fill vacancies.

In other business Monday, the school board voted 6-0 to move forward with a $1.9 million bond issue project at OK Elementary School in west Wichita. The project will include a new library, classrooms, administrative suite, bus lane and main entry.