The Jaffrey-Rindge Cooperative School District is preparing for an anticipated teacher shortage following the upcoming holidays and has proposed solutions including, in an extreme case, suspending preschool classes and shifting those teachers to higher grade levels.
The district is forging ahead with its in-person model through the holiday and flu season unless reports of COVID-19 in the county break the point of 100 new cases per 100,000 people within 14 days, in which case the district will switch to a fully remote model. However, the district is anticipating a lack of teachers could be an issue for classroom instruction for the next three months as teachers stay home due to cold or flu symptoms — or quarantine after holiday travel plans.
During a presentation to the school board on Oct. 19, several options for mitigating “strained” staffing levels were presented, including use of long-term substitutes, recruiting additional student teachers from Franklin Pierce University and Keene State College for the months of November, December and January, and closure of the pre-kindergarten program, redistributing the four preschool staff to state-required grade levels.
In an interview Monday, Superintendent Reuben Duncan said the district had not made any commitment to limiting any classes, including preschool, and that eliminating preschool would be a “last resort.”
“That would be a worst-case scenario,” Duncan said. “Preschool is not a legal requirement, though that is still not something we want to do. We want to be able to provide schooling for all our students.”
Duncan said there are about 40 preschool students currently enrolled in the district and four preschool teachers, two at Jaffrey Grade School and two at Rindge Memorial School.
The district has conducted a survey of both staff members and students’ families regarding their plans for travel during both the Thanksgiving and December breaks.
Thanksgiving break in the district is anticipated to run from Nov. 25 through Nov. 27 and December break from Dec. 23 through Jan. 1.
Based on staff responses, the district is anticipating staffing to be “strained” following the Thanksgiving break at Jaffrey-Rindge Middle School, Jaffrey Grade School and Rindge Memorial School, with the largest impact to Rindge Memorial. Staffing would be strained for the two weeks following the holiday, until Dec. 8.
Following the December break, staffing is anticipated to be strained at all four of the district’s schools, with the least amount of impact to Conant High School. Staffing is expected to be strained at all four schools through Jan. 12.
Duncan said those analyses take into account the district’s current pool of substitutes. He said each school has a different threshold before the situation hits a level that’s difficult to cover but said it was between two and six teachers out, depending on the school, with the elementary schools in a more precarious position.
Of the 406 responses from families surveyed, representing a total of 790 students in the district, a little more than 3 percent reported they would be traveling over the Thanksgiving break and just over 5 percent reported they would be traveling over the December break.
Duncan said some teachers, who may be quarantining but still healthy, would have the option of providing remote support to their classroom to assist substitutes or student teachers.
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