ACSA members come out of retirement to serve as subs during staffing shortfall
March 28, 2022
Many retired ACSA administrators have boomeranged back into schools in recent months to alleviate a staffing shortfall that has been exacerbated by COVID-19.
They’ve come out of retirement to offer their services to students yet again as substitute teachers and administrators. Some who retired prior to the pandemic got their first taste of the changed education landscape due to COVID.
The omicron variant surge in January and an increase in educators calling out sick drove up the demand for substitutes, which were in short supply across the nation. Elected officials in Colorado and South Dakota substituted in classrooms to highlight the shortage. The state of New Mexico even enlisted National Guard members to serve as substitute teachers.
Here in California, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed two executive orders that made it easier for retired educators to return to schools by relaxing CalSTRS’ six-month separation from service rule and post-retirement income limits. The temporary provisions expire March 31.
Retired administrator and Region 10 Consultant Matt Bell has done some administrative substituting in the past year without running into the income cap set by CalSTRS. He finds that many temporary admin positions last four to six months, which makes the positions hard for districts to fill with anyone but a retired administrator.
“Most supts don’t want to yank out teachers to be an administrator in charge because they can’t get subs,” he explained. “When an administrator goes out, they actually want to bring in another administrator.”
So Bell reached out to ACSA retirees in Region 10 and created a spreadsheet of retired admins who were interested in subbing. The spreadsheet was sent to all superintendents in the region and included any stipulations the retirees had, such as what county they would work in, desired grade spans and time availabilities.
Another challenge for retirees returning to work has been how much technology permeates the learning experience, especially compared to when retirees first became teachers.
“There is a pool of talent in leadership available to districts should they choose to connect with the retired charters.”
— Kathleen McCreery, Chair, ACSA Retirement Committee
“I thought I was pretty up to snuff, and I am so out of it,” said Cheryl Lynn De Werff, reflecting on her experience dealing with student tech issues while subbing in the Fairfield-Suisun Unified School District.
She noted that substitute teaching is also physically demanding.
“I’m almost at the point where after two days of subbing, I need a day off,” she said. “When you’re an administrator, we’re putting out fires all day, but we get to sit down, and we could take a break possibly and catch our breath. But as a teacher — you never sit down.”
In January when substitute shortages reached a crisis level, Pat Crowder stepped in to help at a nearby high school.
“I found it a wonderful experience and I really enjoyed just encouraging the teachers and encouraging the students,” she said. “I felt the teachers just needed somebody to come by, look at the room and tell them what a great job they were doing. Even though that seems very minor, just that personal contact, even with a mask on, I think really helped the school a bit.”
From emotional support to mentoring principals via Zoom, ACSA retirees are finding plenty of ways to help.
Patrick Sayne has been subbing in middle and high schools, providing overall student supervision and filling in for principals during IEP meetings.
“Given the difficulty of obtaining substitute teachers, I have also spent time covering classes,” he said. “This frees up site administrators to handle discipline, supervise instruction and address parent concerns.”
He said that while most students are on task, he’s been surprised by the level of student behavior issues.
“Discipline problems have greatly increased, and simply getting students, many of whom are addicted to their cell phones from two years unlimited use, to pay attention during direct instruction has taken up significant amounts of administrative time,” he said.
Having to return to keeping a set schedule also came as a bit of a shock to Sayne, who has been retired for 12 years.
“Dog walking and fishing has especially suffered,” he said, adding that the work has been more physically demanding at age 75 than in his younger days.
Michael Hendricks, president of the Region 15 retirement charter RACSAM started hearing about substitute shortages around the holidays.
His wife, who is a teacher at a local school, told him about how principals and TOSAs were having to go into classrooms to teach.
His teaching and administrative credentials were still active, so he decided to help out in emergencies. Although he isn’t substituting as much as other retired administrators he knows — he has multiple other part-time jobs that compete for his time — he has worked in a handful of schools since January. He is even scheduled to sub in his wife’s classroom during parent-teacher conferences.
Hendricks retired as superintendent of Charter Oak USD in 2019, prior to the pandemic.
“Of course, I had to follow all the COVID protocols in the classrooms, and I have to say sometimes it was hard to understand students who are speaking through their masks,” he said. “But otherwise really nothing had changed in the two years that I’ve been retired.”
While retired administrators may have been a stopgap for dealing with staffing shortages during the pandemic, some say more flexibility could make it easier to tap this resource in the future during teacher strikes or other emergencies.
“If district administrators knew they had this opportunity to connect with some of the retired leaders who are willing to come in and help out, that would be value added program,” said Kathleen McCreery, president of ACSA’s Retirement Committee. “There is a pool of talent in leadership available to districts should they choose to connect with the retired charters in their regions.”
McCreery points out that some retirees are not able to return to education — they may have to care for family members, have an ailing loved one, or their own health concerns. “They retired for a reason,” she said.
Retired administrators said there were a number of ways to make it easier for them to return to working at schools on an interim basis.
Sayne said an orientation would help some retired administrators get acclimated to changes in the classroom.
“Technology has certainly changed and all might not be up on the latest teenage communication platforms or the tech currently in use at the school sites,” he said. “Prior to working at the sites there should be a meeting with the current site administration and the retired administration to clearly delineate the expectations of both parties. The retired administration should be introduced to staff and their role explained.”
Marc Winger noted that income limits can make it harder to find interim superintendents, especially because it is taking longer to fill those permanent superintendent positions.
“Recruitment is taking longer than allowable under the earnings limit, so after three months, you have to find a new interim,” said Winger, who has served in two interim superintendencies prior to COVID. “The change in personnel is really disruptive.” Hendricks said many districts are paying substitutes by the hour, which he said opens opportunities to more individuals who can’t sub for the full day.
“But let me make it clear I’m not doing it for the money,” he said with a laugh. “I do it because I enjoy the kids and I, you know, like helping out schools that are in a jam with shortages. Principals and their TOSAs have their own work to do without being stuck spending their time in classrooms covering for a shortage of substitutes.”
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