Wake County Schools

Headhunter to help Wake schools find hundreds of needed substitute teachers

Posted September 15, 2021 7:36 p.m. EDT

— The hiring difficulties plaguing other industries have now hit local classrooms.

The Wake County Public School System needs 975 substitute teachers on an average day – about 9 percent of its teaching staff – to fill gaps caused by vacations, sick leave and the district's shortage of full-time teachers. But schools can find subs for only 45 to 55 percent of those openings.

On Wednesday, the district couldn't find subs for 409 classrooms. Eight of those were at Carroll Magnet Middle School in Raleigh, which needed 10 subs but found only two.

Principal Elizabeth MacWilliams said she sometimes serves as a sub for a Carroll Middle class. Office staff, counselors and other teachers during their planning periods also fill in as needed, she said.

"I think our kids are just expecting the unexpected at this point," MacWilliams said. "It’s an all-hands-on-deck effort, and we’re filling in to cover classrooms and to support students in our care center and just to make sure students are safe and well supervised."

The district, which also can't find enough bus drivers, is looking to contract with a company that can recruit subs and fill between 800 and 1,300 positions daily, Talent Acquisition Director Jason Kennedy said.

"It is a constant sourcing, constant recruitment, constantly looking for ways to attract talent in areas we may not have looked before," Kennedy said. "They can do advertising to their client group to solicit interest in the positions."

The district hopes to have the contractor in place as early as next week. The cost for the effort isn't known yet, as the district was still accepting bids Wednesday from prospective firms.

A district survey found that the coronavirus pandemic is a major reason fewer subs are offering to fill in at area schools, he said. The number of active subs picking up positions dropped by about a third this year.

"Over half of them cited the recent pandemic. The Delta variant still plays a very important part in their decision making," he said.

MacWilliams said she worries that, if her staff can't get a break from this pace, it will lead to teacher burnout.

"We’re now asking teachers and staff to go above and beyond even more," she said. "We’ve been very creative at leveraging them for all sorts of things. However, at this point in time, I think we are approaching widespread burnout."

Anyone who wants to be a substitute teacher needs to have a high school diploma or a GED and most complete some brief training. Non-certified subs are paid $80 a day, while certified teachers who fill in are paid $103 a day.

Last year, the district paid a monthly incentive on top of the daily rate, but that incentive is no longer in place.

"I want to thank all the substitutes we have that are taking positions because, without them, I don’t know where we’d be at this time. But we do need help," Kennedy said.

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