SF schools seem short on substitutes

It’s no secret that San Francisco’s sky-high cost of living makes it difficult to attract public school teachers.

But when those teachers the district does have call in sick or take a day off, who shows up to fill their shoes?

On at least three dozen separate occasions this school year at San Francisco Community School in the Excelsior, the answer was no one, say parents and teachers at the school.

“Kids are going to school and there’s no one there to instruct them or supervise them because when teachers ask for a sub, it’s just kind of a roll of the dice as to whether or not someone is actually going to show up,” said Ethan Karson, president of the school’s Parent Council.

In response to Karson and other parents’ concerns about the purported lack of substitute teachers, Supervisor David Campos today will request a hearing from the Public Safety and Neighborhood Services Committee to explore the issue and possible solutions. That committee assumed the responsibilities of the former City and School District Select Committee.

“Our understanding is that generally, [the San Francisco Unified School District] lacks a substitute teacher in one of every 10 classrooms,” Campos said. “You can see that this is a very serious problem. What I’m doing is calling for a hearing to better understand the problem … but also to discuss what The City can do to help the school district.”

Campos said after he began hearing from concerned parents this school year, his office compiled data from September 2014, which showed of the 1,600 teachers who missed a day of school that month, there were 550 instances in which classrooms could not find a substitute.

“We need to figure out how we as a city can help address this problem,” Campos said.

SFUSD spokeswoman Gentle Blythe said the district is actually able to provide a substitute for every request around 94 percent of the time, though prior to 2013 the rate was 97 percent. The increased cost of living and other more robust employment options today provides a smaller pool of possible substitutes for the district, she added.

Board of Education President Matt Haney also acknowledged the lack of substitute teachers has increased, particularly among schools in The City’s southeast neighborhoods.

“The district faces a daily struggle to provide substitute coverage across the district, literally scrambling to make sure classrooms are filled every day,” Haney said.

But when substitute teachers are not available, teachers often split up students into other classrooms, making for crowded classrooms and less attention for students, according to parents and teachers at Community School.

“It means kind of a lost day of learning for those kids whose teacher isn’t covered,” said Tara Robinson, whose son is in second grade at Community School.

Molly McDermott, a fourth and fifth grade teacher at Community School, said cramming students into a classroom not only detracts from their education, it’s also unsafe.

“When you have more students in a room than you actually have chairs and desk space for, it becomes an issue of safety,” McDermott said.

District officials said the SFUSD is continuously recruiting and hiring substitute teachers, as well as restricting professional development days that pull teachers from their classrooms to Tuesdays through Thursdays, which traditionally have fewer vacancies.

Substitute teachers are required to have a Bachelor’s degree and pass the California Basic Educational Skills Test (CBEST), along with criminal background clearance and other requirements. For more information, visit: www.sfusdsubstitutes.org.

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