HENRICO COUNTY, Va. — When a teacher calls in sick or misses a day for another reason, schools rely on substitute teachers to fill in. But what happens when substitutes aren’t available – or aren’t willing to report to certain schools?
It’s a question that even Henrico County Public Schools officials can’t completely answer – even though the scenario has occurred more than 2,400 times at Henrico elementary schools during the past two school years.
Data provided by Henrico County Public Schools to the Henrico Citizen at the newspaper’s request paints a striking contrast between how often substitute positions went unfilled at schools in Eastern Henrico when compared to those in the West End.
Henrico elementary schools were unable to fill substitute spots on a total of 2,457 occasions during the 2014-15 and 2015-16 school years; more than 70 percent of those “fail-to-fill” days (1,642) occurred at just 14 schools – 12 in Eastern Henrico, two in Northern Henrico. (To view a spreadsheet of all Henrico elementary schools, click here.)
Were students in those classes moved to other classes for a day? Taught by an assistant principal or other administrator?
School system officials don’t exactly know, because the system does not require schools to compile or report that information, HCPS spokesman Andy Jenks told the Citizen. It’s unclear whether any individual schools keep track on their own of what happens to classes for which substitutes cannot be found.
The school system has been using a program called SubFinder to manage and record data related to the placement of substitutes, Jenks said, but the program does not offer a way to note what happens to those classes, either. HCPS is implementing a new system in time for the coming school year, Jenks said, but it’s unclear whether that system will track such information.
But Ward Elementary School PTA President Angela Greene has seen firsthand at that Varina school what takes place when substitutes aren’t available: principals and other administrators scramble to fill those spots themselves or split a class and send its students to other classrooms for the day. Neither option is ideal, she said.