Amanda Thompson, chief human resources officer for the Douglas County School District, estimated the district’s substitute teacher pool sat around 600, maybe 700 people in recent years.
Going into the second semester of the 2020-21 school year, that number has reached roughly 900. About 150 of those people became substitutes since the fall.
The district launched a hiring push as an existing substitute teacher shortage clashed with the COVID-19 pandemic while schools conducted hybrid learning during the first semester.
State quarantine protocols took exposed educators out of the classroom for days. Numerous schools were forced to take on full remote learning temporarily when they could not supply enough substitutes for the classrooms of sick or exposed teachers.
Thompson said the district is grateful community members answered the call.
“I can tell you this is probably the healthiest our sub pool has been in quite some time,” she said.
Still, it does not eliminate the shortage or need for more, she said.
“There is not any time I would say we have enough subs,” Thompson said.
New substitutes came from a range of sources, she said. Teachers coming out of retirement. Parents who had teaching licenses. Student teachers from nearby universities and colleges.
Classified staff — such as educational assistants or office employees — have also stepped in to help substitute and taken on more responsibility, Thompson said.
The district and the state education department list substitute teacher qualifications online and she hopes people keep applying.
The district will also participate in the Colorado Department of Education’s One-Year Substitute Teacher Authorization program. People who want a one-year term compared to longer can apply through the state for the program and then apply to substitute teach in the district, she said.
Looking ahead, interim Superintendent Corey Wise said the district’s ability to hire substitutes shows how involved its community is, and he suspects the new group will stay on as substitutes beyond the COVID crisis.
In the shorter term, Wise said the district is making plans to bring middle and high school students back to hybrid or in-person learning this semester.
The bolstered substitute teacher program might increase the odds that happens, although it’s one of many variables, he said.
“All of these things are helping, but this is an ever-changing environment and quickly changing,” he said.