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Local residents stepped up and got credentialed to fill critical a need in schools

COURTESY PHTOT: SANTYNA JOHNSTONE-ARNOLD - Santyna Johnstone-Arnold, who taught adults and has a master's degree, was approved to substitute in all grades. "I really enjoy it," she said.

Teacher shortages stressed schools nationwide as they tried to reopen buildings after the pandemic shuttered them, but Estacada School District was able to rely on a troop of substitute teachers to stay open and keep students learning.

"It's important for people to understand the critical role they (substitute teachers) do play," said Jennifer Behrman, principal at River Mill Elementary School.

"When we need them, we really need them," she said.

The COVID-19 pandemic caused such a severe shortage of teachers and substitutes that in some states the National Guard was called in to cover classrooms and some schools closed or switched back to online classes.

In Oregon, the Teacher Standards and Practices Commission allowed people without traditional teaching credentials to get emergency substitute licenses to ease the crunch.

The emergency subs, who had to be sponsored by the district, were not required to have a bachelor's degree. Kelly Hayes, human resources coordinator for the district said this emergency exemption has been extended for next year.

People with degrees but not a teaching license could also get restricted credentials.

Estacada schools had three such emergency substitutes and several others with four year degrees, but not teaching licenses, step up to help out in the crunch, Hayes said.

COURTESY PHOTO: ESTACADA SCHOOL DISTRICT - Jennifer Behrman, principal at River Mill Elementary School said substitute teachers play a critical role in student learning. "When we need them, we really need them," she said.

Thanks to community

"We want to give a shout out to our community," Hayes emphasized. The new subs "have all been local Estacada people, and as far as we know, they don't sub anywhere else. They are moms and dads, a real estate agent, a nursing student."

Four River Mill parents were approved by the district and filled in when teachers couldn't make it to their classrooms, said Behrman.

"They are my go to. The biggest pool I pull from," Behrman said.

One of those new substitutes is Santyna Johnstone-Arnold. She holds a master's degree and has mostly taught adults in corporate training. But, new to the area, she joined the substitute pool in January and teachers three to four days per week.

"I really enjoy it," she said.

"I hadn't been a full-time classroom teacher," she said, despite training in education.

She is enjoying teaching younger folks and has taught at both elementary schools and the high school.

She acknowledged she was a bit wary at first.

"Do I have enough tools in my toolbox to handle a roomful of kids? There was a learning curve," she said.

But she said after four months, she doesn't feel those nerves anymore.

Johnstone-Arnold praises the para educators, other teachers and administrators for helping her out and smoothing the way. She said the absent teachers leave detailed lesson plans that guide her.

Only once did she have no lesson plan and that was when a teacher went into early labor the night before class. She said the other teachers in that grade shared their lesson plans and the day went off without a hitch.

Although it's tough for Johnstone-Arnold to pick a favorite grade or subject, she said she's partial to 2nd and 3d grades.

"The foundation has been laid and they are more curious about learning," she said.

First full-time sub

For the first time, the Estacada School District this year hired two full-time substitutes that can be dispatched to whatever school is in need for that day, although once has since become unavailable.

"We use these people for the last minute calls," Behrman said, "that was a huge lifesaver."

Estacada fields about 125 licensed teaching and the district generally requires four or five substitutes per day district wide, Hayes said.

Recently the district has a "fill rate" of about 72%, which Hayes said is a bit lower than normal.

When subs can't be found, schools scramble to cover the classes with administrators, central office staff, or teachers on a planning period.

"We have to piecemeal the class together. I teach in the morning, the vice principal in the afternoon. It's disruptive to to the class and to the school," Principal Behrman said.

But Hayes said the district does not frown on teachers calling out.

"We are really supportive of our staff's well-being. If they need a day off, they need a day off," Hayes said.

Behrman is thankful for the excellent substitutes she manages to attract and she remembers to tell them so.

"A good sub cares about our kids and builds our relationship with our kids," she said.

A high quality sub follows the teacher's lesson plans so the students' learning is not disrupted for the time the teacher is out, she added.

"A good sub is critical to student learning," Behrman said.

Hayes said the new substitutes have integrated smoothly, with the help of building staff and district support.

"We've had no issues with subs this year. We are very lucky. We do have a screening process for those without a teaching background and we offer shadowing in classrooms," Hayes said.

One goal of teaching is to help kids become lifelong learners. That's a value substitute Johnstone-Arnold holds for herself.

"I love the learning process. I am learning teaching and tools. I love that I am learning too," she said.

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