RUDOLPH_HEAD

A fully staffed school is a happy school

Forecasting staffing needs, recruiting great teachers and planning for absences

By Ayinde Rudolph | September | October 2020
One of a school district’s most important resources is its personnel, but in this competitive landscape, it can be difficult to attract and keep great teachers. According to the California Teachers Association, the teacher recruitment problem has reached crisis proportions. It also notes statistics for turnover among new teachers are startling, with 20 percent of all new hires leaving the classroom within three years. To keep your district running smoothly, it’s critical to have reliable plans in place to recruit and retain great teachers and to quickly address staffing needs. This requires forecasting staffing needs for the right time, creating incentives to attract and retain great employees, and having a backup plan to fill absences. Here is how the Mountain View Whisman School District has addressed its staffing challenges. Forecasting staffing needs The Mountain View Whisman School District serves about 5,600 students in grades K-8. As with any school district, this number fluctuates every year. To make sure we have enough staff members in the right positions to meet students’ needs, it is important to look at student enrollment at the right time of year for our district. This starts in March and continues through early October. We start in March because we have a lottery that month for our two districtwide magnet schools. This lottery impacts enrollment at our other schools because the students who have applied but do not get into the magnet schools must be placed in another school in the district. Factors such as magnet or charter school lotteries must be taken into consideration when forecasting staffing needs. It is also important to consider external factors, such as population shifts and business changes in the community, to make sure you are on top of potential increases or decreases in staffing needs.
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Attracting and retaining good teachers The best way to set up a district for success is to put practices in place that will help you hire amazing staff members — and retain them by keeping them happy. Mountain View is a sought-after community because of the quality of our schools, but affordable housing is scarce because of our Silicon Valley location. To draw — and keep — great staff members, it is important to provide the right incentives. Here are a few things that our school district has done.
  • Provide close, affordable housing. One of the most high-profile and creative things our district is doing is providing affordable housing for teachers. We are leasing land from a developer to build 140 new housing units that will be made available to staff at a rate they can afford. Currently, some staff members commute 60 miles to get to work. If there’s an accident on their route, they are late. If there is an emergency at home and they need to leave, they can’t come back. And, with our area’s heavy traffic, they may be on the road for two hours if they leave at the wrong time of day. Living closer alleviates this stress for staff members. We also partner with a firm to help staff members with down payments on homes. This has been a huge draw when it comes to recruiting and retaining staff.
  • Make your staff feel valued. Providing competitive salaries is one of the best ways to attract and retain staff. Our district raised salaries by 28 percent, restored health benefits, and offers recruitment bonuses for certain positions. We have also gone beyond paychecks and bonuses to make staff members feel valued. We have created an environment where staff members want to come to work every day. Our district focuses on “teacher presenteeism” by supporting those teachers who are in the classroom on any given day and letting teachers who have to call out know that we understand time off is necessary and we will cover their position so learning can continue in their absence. Having happy staff members who love their jobs is the best recruiting tool available. Small changes like these make teachers feel appreciated and are reflective of an organization where people want to come to work.
  • Take things off of teachers’ plates. Elementary school teachers teach eight subjects, and when they need to adjust their teaching to remediate or enrich, it can be difficult. To help with this, our district has adopted a Response to Instruction program and hired additional teachers to support these specific student needs. For example, the classroom teachers can go about their day as normal and the RTI teachers will come in as needed to support pull-out groups or one-on-one instruction. This tactic has worked well for students and is appreciated by the teachers.
Finding reliable, quality substitute teachers By making teachers feel like it is OK when they need to take some time off, it shows your support for their personal lives. Teachers just want what is best for their students, so finding a good solution to fill teacher absences takes the burden of being out for a day off of your teachers’ shoulders. This helps you keep your schools fully-staffed and also gives your teachers and support staff peace of mind knowing their students and duties will be taken care of. Giving your staff one less thing to worry about helps with staff retention. School districts typically handle teacher absences in two ways:
  • A Substitute Teacher Pool: A pool of go-to substitute teachers which is large enough to fill 10 percent to 25 percent of staffing needs. Some districts have permanent, full-time substitute teachers who come in every day and fill in wherever they are needed.
  • Outside Staffing Agency: A contracted staffing company that provides substitute teachers.
There are times when this coverage is still insufficient. For example, some substitutes in a pool only want to work with certain grade levels or at certain sites, while others may work with multiple school districts and may not be available when you need them. Full-time substitutes provide more stability, but they still need to be paid on days you don’t need a substitute. 

The best way to set up a district for success is to put practices in place that will help you hire amazing staff members — and retain them by keeping them happy.
Finding multiple, complementary solutions to fill teacher absences provides us with flexibility and peace of mind. At the Mountain View Whisman School District, we have a pool of about 20 substitute teachers and we also partner with Swing Education, a staffing marketplace for substitute teachers, to provide additional staff during high-need times such as around holidays, during professional development days or to fill emergency absences.   Swing is different from most staffing services in that there is no upfront commitment or minimum usage required. The platform provides substitutes “on-demand” and we only pay when we find substitutes through them. Swing provides thorough screening and training for its substitute teachers and provides both certificated and classified staff to meet our needs. Speed and ease of getting requests filled by substitutes is an important consideration when partnering with a staffing company, to make adoption straightforward and ease the daily absence management burden on staff. It’s also important to make sure they have a track record of good customer service. You want a partner that is easy to work with and is quick to respond to your feedback, concerns and needs. Recruiting and retaining school staff will continue to be a challenge in California and across the country, so creativity and proactiveness are necessary to meet these challenges. Districts should forecast staffing needs at the right time, find innovative ways to attract new hires, and consider multiple resources to fill teacher absences. Doing these things can help you keep your schools fully-staffed and your teachers happy. Resources California Teachers Association: “Teacher Shortage,” https://www.cta.org/Issues-and-Action/Teacher-Shortage.aspx
Ayinde Rudoph is the superintendent of the Mountlain View Whisman School District.
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