The scarcity of substitute teachers in the West Hempstead Union Free School District has increased in recent years — especially as more district teachers get involved in professional development, which takes them away from classes.
“This is an ongoing concern, and it’s certainly not something that we like in terms of pulling teachers to cover for practical obligations,” Superintendent Patricia Sullivan-Kriss said at a Nov. 21 board meeting. “That being said, we’ve tried to evaluate why this is becoming more of an issue now than in the past and what we can do moving forward.”
The district, which has comprised of more than 200 teachers, according to its website, requires that all teachers complete 18 hours of professional development during the school year. Teachers as well as Level III teaching assistants are required by the state to complete 100 hours of professional development every five years.
Daniel Rehman, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, said that he interviews at least one substitute per week in the hope of adding to the staff. “We’ve reached out to all the local colleges, like Adelphi University, Molloy College and Hofstra University,” Rehman said. “However, we’re dealing with a multilayered issue. This is not a West Hempstead issue, this is a Long Island issue.”
Sullivan-Kriss said she plans on meeting with her colleagues across Nassau County to see what they have done to solve it.
Some parents proposed that the schedule for teachers who are involved in professional development should be made public. Board President Karen Brohm said there are too many variables to produce a schedule. “It depends on what professional development they’re going to, what grade level it is and who the teacher is,” she said. “There’s no consistent answer to that.”
Lisa Palmieiri, a parent in the district, said she understands the difficulties of getting substitutes, but she also believes that professional development is important for teachers. “I’m so thrilled about it,” Palmieri said. “Just like professional baseball players, our teachers need coaches, too, no matter what level they’re at.”
Rehman said he hoped that parents would be patient with the district as it tries to find substitutes, and that they see the district’s long-term vision for its students. “Everything doesn’t change in one year, or in this case 185 days,” he said. “If you look at any district that’s doing anything of any significance, it’s all based around professional development. I’m not saying it’s perfect, but we’re doing it for the right reasons and for our 2,091 students.”
Rehman added that the district would like to see a 15 percentage point increase in the number of students in grades three through eight who score at Level 3 or 4 — considered proficient — on the state English Language Arts exams. This would put the district’s overall proficiency to 57 percent, which is higher than the county’s average proficiency rating of 53 percent. “If we do that, I’m throwing a party for the entire district,” he said. “That’s well within our reach, and I know it’s something that our students can accomplish.”
When it comes to preparing the development calendar for next year, Sullivan-Kriss said, the board has to be more cognizant of the number of substitutes that are needed.
“When we pull teachers out of the classroom for the professional development that we believe in, it has a ripple effect,” she said. “We have to find a way to balance it out more.”