ROCKVILLE – The Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) staff is working on amending a regulation to lower the education requirements for substitute teachers so the district can better meet the demand.
“Substitute teachers are critically important to the school system and to the education of students,” said Superintendent Jack Smith. “And, one of the challenges of working with substitute teachers is having enough of them in the right place, at the right time, on any given day.”
Leading up to the July 11 meeting, MCPS administrators and staff met with and sought input from various stakeholders during the past few months. They heard from local union leadership, the Montgomery County Council of Parent Teacher Associations (MCCPTA), the student government association and others. A video containing clips from the student government association members’ June meeting about teacher requirements was played, and several students said they would like to see MCPS lower the education requirement for subs. Chief Operating Officer Andrew Zuckerman said the other stakeholder groups shared similar comments.
The Montomgery County Board of Education passed a resolution in March, requesting the side-by-side comparison of MCPS and other nearby school systems. During the meeting, Zuckerman listed substitute teacher education qualifications of various school systems and compared them with MCPS.
Zuckerman said that review was spurred by a comment from a parent during a recent meeting with the school board and feeder school families of Paint Branch High School.
“We are really the only ones who require a bachelor’s degree,” in the D.C. Metro area, said Zuckerman.
MCPS substitute requirements are outlined in a regulation, which does not require board approval to be amended.
MCPS will amend the regulations to require an associate of arts degree, or 60 credits, down from a bachelor’s degree.
All board members said they supported staff in amending the regulation.
Board Member Jeanette Dixon (At-Large) said she was pleased to see the requirements of other school systems.
“I really appreciate that you involved students, got the student perspective,” Dixon said.
Some areas in the county have a more-severe problem of unfilled substitute requests than others, Zuckerman said; he did not name the affected school clusters.
If MCPS has access to more substitute teachers, it would reduce the vacancy and, in turn, lessen the burden that falls on teachers and paraeducators within the schools, as well as for counselors and school administrators, when a substitute teacher request is not filled.
Zuckerman said there are between 300 and 800 teacher absences per day on average. Smith said he receives a list of the number of teacher absences daily, and that MCPS could have 100 to 800 teacher absences on a school day.
A few years ago, Smith directed staff to create a career pathway for support staff employed by MCPS who are interested in continuing their education to become teachers, and to respond to the substitute shortage.
Jennifer Martin, vice president of the teachers union Montgomery County Education Association, teaches at Watkins Mill High School and said she was pleased that MCPS staff plan to change the requirements for substitutes.
“This could be a good thing, in that maybe it widens the pool for younger prospective teachers to have that experience (in a classroom) and to develop relationships with MCPS for potential employment as a teacher,” said Martin.
Board Members Judy Docca (District 1) and Rebecca Smondrowski (District 2) said they have received comments from community members interested in substituting. Although they had applied, they never received a response from MCPS. The two board members said they wanted to know if MCPS could redesign the applications, so they notify the user that the form is missing something, as one would find on websites for online shopping.
Human Resources Associate Superintendent Lancelotti “Lance” Dempsey said prospective substitutes have contacted MCPS complaining of not being asked to substitute. In some cases, when staff looked at the profiles, they determined that the residents had made a mistake in completing online forms.
Dempsey said an applicant not answering a question or not clicking on a check box could keep MCPS staff from being notified of some people’s applications to do substitute teaching.
“When you don’t apply to the pool, we have no way of knowing what you’ve done (or submitted),” Dempsey said.
Consequently, people who had applied or thought they applied do not receive notifications of jobs. Some people make the mistake of not selecting an applicant pool, said Stacey Kopnitsky, who also works in human resources.
“That is the challenge when people (only) create a general profile – because we literally have thousands of applicants in a given year,” Kopnitsky said.
Kopnitsky instructs applicants to make sure they select a pool in addition to completing a profile online.
Smith said MCPS is working on improving the online application in a way that employees in a different part of the system could give applicants an easier time filling in the application. Staff will upgrade the substitute teacher application in a similar way, but not in the immediate future.
People do not need to wait for application upgrades to become substitutes, however.
“If at any point in time, anyone feels they’re hitting a roadblock, email Lance Dempsey; she will respond right away,” Zuckerman said. “We don’t want to lose good candidates because we have an antiquated system.”
Staff will update the board on application improvements during a meeting in September, Zuckerman said.
Spokesperson Gboyinde Onijala confirmed that the lowered education requirement will take effect at the beginning of the 2019-2020 school year.