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Summit School District looks to fill staffing gaps with creative solutions

Dillon Valley Elementary School students hop off the school bus Jan. 31, 2018. Summit School District is looking to hire more bus drivers and substitute teachers as staffing issues persist.
Hugh Carey/Summit Daily News archive

Summit School District is looking for creative ways to recruit teachers and staff members after experiencing a year of shortages and COVID-19 absences.

Education staffing shortages have plagued school districts across the country throughout the 2021-22 school year. A study by the Institute for Education Sciences showed that 57% of all public schools in the U.S. had teachers working in roles outside of the classroom and 62% had non-teaching staff working in the classroom in January.

Summit has experienced a similar situation. During the omicron variant’s surge, the district had administrative staff and principals teaching in classrooms as teachers got sick with the virus. It was an “all-hands-on-deck effort,” said Grant Schmidt, chief human resources officer at the district.



“We called every single substitute teacher on our sub list and talked to them directly,” Schmidt said. “Many of them did not want to sub until omicron had gone away.”

Since omicron’s impact has waned, the situation has improved slightly, Schmidt said. The district has gone from around 50 staff vacancies at the start of the school year to 37 as of Thursday, March 3, according to the district’s job board. Some of those vacancies are positions that the district consistently has open, such as bus drivers and substitute teachers, Schmidt said.



Teachers account for only three of the vacancies. The biggest gaps are in substitute teachers, bus drivers and non-teaching support staff members, such as paraprofessionals, front office secretaries and custodians.

The substitute shortages have the highest impact on day-to-day operations, Schmidt said. Currently, the district is able to fill about 60% to 70% of teacher vacancies with substitutes. During the omicron surge, that number dropped to around 40%. Most of the time, teachers are being asked to give up planning periods to fill substitute needs.

“There is this sense of guilt felt by teachers for not being able to come in … because you know that your colleagues are going to carry that,” said Liz Waddick, president of the Summit County Education Association and a Spanish teacher at Summit High School.

The district is hoping a Colorado Department of Education program that pays new substitute teachers $300 to participate in a two-hour Substitute Boot Camp training will help improve the situation, Schmidt said. The New Substitute Stipend is offered to anyone who holds a substitute authorization from the state or a valid Colorado teaching license, according to the department’s website.

“We’re going to be pushing that out to the whole community to see if we might be able to get individuals who might be interested, even for a couple of days, in being a sub,” Schmidt said.

Schmidt and his team are also looking to improve upon teacher recruitment efforts. The district plans to create a lifestyle webpage that will show prospective teachers what it’s like to live in Summit County. The district then plans to share the webpage on fliers at colleges throughout the state.

To address housing issues, Schmidt said his team plans to create an informal database of property owners who are looking for renters. Because teachers sign yearlong contracts, Schmidt hopes homeowners will be encouraged to lease rooms long term.

The district is also looking into supporting alternative pathways to education, which allow people who don’t have teaching licenses to obtain a license without having to go back to college.

“You don’t have to have an education degree to work in the school district,” he said.

Waddick said she and the rest of the education association are appreciative of the district’s efforts to improve staffing situations, but it ultimately will take higher pay and more funding on the state level to make a real impact.

Starting in August, Summit School District teachers will earn a starting salary of $50,000, which is the fourth highest starting salary in Colorado. However, substitute teachers are paid a starting salary of $17.42 an hour.

“If we don’t fix education funding in the state, I don’t know what the answer is to these substitute issues, to the teacher shortages or the teacher exodus,” Waddick said.

Anyone who is interested in working at the district can see openings by visiting SummitK12.org. They can also ask to speak with the district’s human resources department if they are unsure about which pathway to teaching will work for them, Schmidt said.


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