Hiring during a pandemic comes with its challenges: there are no recruiting events, interviews are virtual and there’s a lot of uncertainty.
Roseburg Public Schools Human Resources Director Robert Freeman said two people who were offered jobs by the school district declined.
“They chose not to accept our offer because of the coronavirus,” Freeman said. “They had a couple of concerns. One (of those concerns) was moving during a pandemic. They decided that wasn’t in the best interest of their family. And they felt like they didn’t know what the financial impact was going to be for school districts, and they didn’t want to give up their seniority at another institution to come here and then possibly lose their job in the future.”
But in general, the school district has been very happy with its hiring of new staff members.
“I think we had one of the best hiring seasons we’ve ever had,” Freeman said. “We’ve hired experienced teachers that came highly recommended and are proven so far to be incredible master teachers. And then our brand new teachers who’ve chosen to come work for Roseburg, have been outstanding.”
The district hired 36 teachers this year, including several who were just out of college. Freeman said his strategy has always been to recruit people with ties to Roseburg or Douglas County.
“I can think of one building where a brand new teacher is actually the go-to person to help with Canvas and setting up Google classrooms and things like that,” Freeman said. “It’s pretty exciting. It’s pretty exciting for our new people to kind of come in and be leaders right from the get go.”
Canvas is a learning management systems used by Roseburg school district, which provides all assignments, grades and discussions on one platform.
Roseburg has in-person classes available for kindergarten through third grade, but all other classes are offered through distance learning.
However, when the kindergarten through third graders went back to school, more than 200 students wanted to continue remote learning, which created some staffing concerns that the school district mitigated by moving some teachers into new positions.
“We’ve had to repurpose some of our special positions like our (teacher on special assignment) or our learning specialists,” Freeman said. “We’ve been able to combine a couple grade levels; where they had three teachers and now they have two, and then one of those teachers is teaching remotely.”
As of Wednesday, the school district had eight teachers dedicated to remote teaching students who opted out of in-person learning.
With the additional safety measures in place regarding cleaning the school district had to switch some schedules around for the custodial staff and added a few hours to already existing contracts.
“We were able to mitigate the extra cleaning, that’s required because of COVID by redoing their duties, and adding hours,” Freeman said.
But the school district did lose some classified employees, who opted to stay home out of concerns for their health.
“To be honest with you, we’ve been able to fill those positions,” Freeman said. “It’s always hard to replace somebody that’s been with us, but we feel very strongly about the people that we’ve hired.”
And with the possibility of fourth and fifth graders coming back into the classroom, the district is anticipating that additional hires may be necessary.
“We are getting pretty close to our limit on repurposing teachers,” Freeman said. “At some point, we may need to consider adding staff, but at this point where we’ve been able to do that in house.”
At the South Umpqua School District, all schools have in-person classes and the district has had to make some additional hires as a result.
“Due to the increased requirements for COVID-19 and the requirements for all students to be in small cohorts it has increased our need for classified staff to provide coverage for certain duties,” said Tabitha Roberts, who is in charge of human resources at the district. “We have also found an increased need for custodial staff to support the additional sanitation requirements.”
Roberts said at South Umpqua, when staff members raise concerns about COVID-19, they assure them they are following guidelines set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and listen to each individual’s concerns as they arise and make appropriate accommodations.
Roberts said that although there was an increase in concerns from staff in the spring of the 2019-2020 school year, when COVID-19 first emerged, there has not been a noticeable increase in concern this year.
Douglas Education Service District Superintendent Michael Lasher said the number of available substitute teachers is lower than normal in Douglas County, down from 300 to 215.
But the substitute teachers are in high demand, especially for school districts that have had to quarantine staff as a result of a positive COVID-19 case.
“As long as a substitute teacher hasn’t been exposed to COVID-19, they may accept assignments to teach at more than one school location,” Lasher said.
While substitutes in Oregon are permitted to teach preschool through 12th grade, the substitute teachers in Douglas County can choose where they work throughout the entire county.
“In addition, schools can also choose to have a core group of substitutes to call on and select only substitutes who meet their particular requirements,” Lasher said.
The Roseburg school district offered teachers some additional leeway amid the pandemic and made special arrangements with those who needed it.
“One of my goals during this pandemic was to extend some of those leaves that are afforded to our staff,” Freeman said. “Just recognizing the situation we’re in, the anxiety that staff has. And honestly, kind of selfishly (and) looking into the future, when this is over I still need those staff. So we have actually gone above and beyond what is mandated by us. We have extended leave options to those who maybe haven’t qualified for leave. And so I do have two teachers that are on a medical leave of absence. One of them is for health reasons, and the other one is to take care of their children at home.”
In addition to some teachers coming into a new school or new district, many have also emphasized the use of technology. Substitute teachers are given training on Canvas and Google Classrooms, and in the Roseburg school district every Wednesday is set aside for professional development with an emphasis on new technology.
“With some of our younger hires it was pretty evident how comfortable they feel with technology,” Freeman said. “And, of course, we’ve now emphasized the technology side of it during our interview process or hiring process.”