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Upper Valley schools scrambling to fill jobs

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 8/19/2020 9:43:04 PM
Modified: 8/19/2020 9:46:39 PM

HANOVER — With the start of the school year just weeks away, Upper Valley school districts are scrambling to match the needs of students with those of their employees in the face of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

SAU 70, which oversees schools in Hanover and Norwich and plans at least initially to offer in-person instruction to all students, posted ads last Friday seeking applicants for teaching and support staff positions at all levels. The Lebanon School District, which is offering a hybrid model of in-person and remote learning, is seeking substitutes to fill in for teachers, paraeducators and nurses who may call in sick during the course of the coming school year.

They’re not alone.

“Staffing is on most of our minds these days,” Orange Southwest Supervisory District Superintendent Layne Millington said via email on Wednesday.

Millington said the Randolph-area district’s decision to opt for a hybrid model, with roughly half the students on site each day, was driven in part by the availability of space to ensure social distancing of 6 feet between students, as well as by the availability of staff to deliver in-person instruction. Staffing needs are further complicated by the requirement that everyone who is the least bit sick stay home, requiring that schools have a roster of substitutes available to call on when staff call out.

“They were a rare commodity before the pandemic; they are even harder to find now,” Millington said. “This is a serious matter — if a large number of teachers call out sick on the same day, we won’t have enough adults to properly supervise the students — especially when it comes to trying to maintain the social distancing.”

Lebanon Superintendent Joanne Roberts said that the number of substitutes the district needs will depend on how many students opt for the hybrid of a mix of in-person and remote learning, versus fully remote.

“We will then look at our current staffing to determine what our needs are,” she said. “We are grateful that we have so many terrific substitutes and are consistently looking to increase the number that we have.”

Many of the district’s regular substitutes are retired teachers, whose age may put them at a higher risk of developing serious symptoms should they contract COVID-19, said Andrew Gamble, a Lebanon High School social studies teacher and president of the local teachers union.

Based on a survey the union conducted of its approximately 200 members earlier this summer, about 30 are seeking to work remotely this fall for various reasons including concerns for their own health or that of others in their household, or due to child care needs, said Gamble. Most are waiting to hear from the administration about whether their requests will be granted, he said.

“I anticipate that administrators will be having conversations about how they can best support the teacher” and operate the schools, Gamble said.

He also noted that in order for the in-person elements of this fall’s instruction to work, teachers will have to be more tuned in to their own health and willing to call in sick if they have to.

Teachers “tend to go to work when we’re not feeling well,” he said. But during the pandemic, they “can’t do that.”

To address the possibility of more frequent sick days among staff this year, Thetford Academy has created a permanent substitute position, said Carrie Brennan, TA’s head of school.

TA students have the option of coming in to school four or two days a week, or learning remotely full-time.

All students will learn remotely on Wednesdays, she said.

While the school is currently looking for paraeducators, that is not unusual for the beginning of the school year, she said. “Sometimes those numbers fluctuate,” she said.

SAU 70 is still doing the math to match students who have requested to learn remotely with teachers who have asked to work from home, either due to health concerns or child care needs. SAU 70 employees have until Thursday to make their request for remote work, Superintendent Jay Badams said in a Wednesday phone interview.

While 85 to 90% of parents seem supportive of the district’s plans to reopen for in-person learning, Badams said the plan has been less popular with employees.

“I think everybody’s concerned,” he said. “That worry ranges from ‘I’m worried’ to ‘I’m terrified.’ ”

Badams said that the open advertisement for applicants for teaching and support staff positions was a “precaution” in the event that there’s a gap between the staff available and the students’ needs. So far, he said the Hanover-Norwich district, one of the highest paying in both states, had received 19 applications.

In addition to having some staff with health concerns, Badams said New Hampshire’s approach of leaving school reopening plans up to local school boards has left school staff with school-aged children who live in different districts with a child care challenge.

“I’m not sure that has been overly helpful in the staffing scenario,” he said, noting that the district is working to help staff members who are juggling child care needs.

In addition to teachers and support staff, SAU 70 also is seeking morning bus monitors to help screen students for signs of illness. For $20 an hour from about 6:45 to 8:15 a.m., the monitors will take students’ temperatures, help them find their seats and make sure their seatbelts are fastened.

Badams said large parts of the first days of school this year will likely be devoted to helping students and staff adjust to the new routines necessary to prevent transmission of COVID-19, including mask wearing, hand washing, using hand sanitizer and monitoring for symptoms.

To be successful in keeping schools open for in-person learning, all members of the school community will need to be “mindful of each other’s well-being,” he said.

Nora Doyle-Burr can be reached at or 603-727-3213.

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