MUSKEGON, Mich. — Many students across West Michigan are getting an extended break for Thanksgiving this week, but not by choice.
A surge in COVID cases across the state and staff shortages in schools have led to several districts in our area closing this week, while also leaving lingering concerns about the winter and year ahead.
Nearly 20 schools districts in West Michigan have closed down early and will pick things up next Monday.
“We had 10 teachers absent on Friday that did not have a substitute teacher to fill the classroom. With all the closings and the domino effect of surrounding districts, caused us to close our schools due to an educator shortage,” says Oakridge Public Schools Superintendent Tom Livezey.
COVID-19 and illness also a concern, the tough part is these factors will remain an issue through the school year and districts like Oakridge are hard at work to keep kids in the classroom
“It's just a tough time in schools right now because it's so unpredictable about what any day is going to look like,” Livezey explained
“Having to go through those experiences causes us a lot of challenges that are tough to overcome. But like I said, we're stepping up the plate. Kids need to be in school, and most kids did not operate well in the virtual environment and certainly not staying home for a day is going to do any good for their education,” he added.
Schools are desperate to get a variety of staff positions filled and substitute teachers to help keep classrooms open.
“Some of the requirements have come down just because of the shortage. I know they used to only allow you to be licensed in five districts and I’m now currently because of COVID, licensed in seven districts,” says John Groendyk.
Groendyk, a college student studying education, has been subbing around West Michigan for about three years and saw demand for his work spike over the past year and a half.
“I have about 60 different job offers every single day just in various districts that I get to pick and choose from,” Groendyk explained.
Right now many districts are also increasing substitute pay in hopes of attracting more people.
“I think most districts are running anywhere between $110 to $130 a day and when I started it was only about $90 so the pay is slowly increasing and it's becoming a more doable job,” says Groendyk who works on days he doesn’t have class.
“I think for many people if they could have off days or if they would want to have one day a week just substitute teach it's a great job to supplement some of their income as well as be a positive role model in their in their community,” he added.
Most districts are encouraging people to apply for open substitute teacher positions and other open staff jobs.