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JOHN F. KENNEDY HIGH SCHOOL sign, steel on pebbles.

Grappling with staff shortage, WCCUSD hires nonprofit to provide substitute teachers

on October 13, 2023

The West Contra Costa Unified School District board unanimously approved a $306,000 contract this week to fill teacher vacancies with substitutes. 

Under the contract with Scoot Education, TeachStart (Scoot’s nonprofit arm) will place one to two “high quality” substitute teachers at four schools: Kennedy High, Stege Elementary, Peres K-­8 and Helms Middle. 

If those placements work out, the following year, the district can hire these teachers full time. In the contract, Scoot Education calls this a “two for one deal” in which the schools get qualified substitute teachers while building a teacher pipeline for the following year.  

Principal Claudia Velez was among those who urged the board on Wednesday to approve the contract. She told board members that TeachStart provided a fellow for Michelle Obama School last year and that the fellow made a positive difference. 

During the 2022-2023 school year, TeachStart sent one fellow each to Lincoln, Verde, Obama and Peres. 

“This is a program worth investing in,” Velez said. “The beauty of having a site sub was that she grew to know the community. She collaborated with teachers and built relationships with students. She could take any class and turn a challenging day with no teacher into a continued day of learning for all students.”

Lincoln Elementary Principal Taylor Parham said she was also pleased with the program. “Last year I was extremely impressed with the TeachStart fellow that we received. She filled in the gap for whichever teacher was out for the day or simply running late.” 

Some teachers who spoke at the meeting expressed concerns about vacancies in the district. The district started the year in a better position than last year, but was still looking to fill dozens of teacher vacancies. This has been an issue across the country, as districts compete for candidates amid a national teacher shortage

“I’m speaking tonight on behalf of the 412 students who have attended a class without a certificated teacher for nine weeks of the school year and counting,” Cristina Huerta, a teacher at Kennedy High, said at the meeting. “The quarter ends on Oct. 24 and these students have received zero instruction.”

She added that most of the students don’t even have a steady substitute teacher. “They bounce around from teacher to teacher and sometimes end up in the cafeteria being supervised by an administrator,” she said. “This is unacceptable.” 

Huerta was among several principals and teachers at the meeting to ask for additional teaching support. Some advocated for the TeachStart contract, while others said more needs to be done.

Jeffery Bean, a fifth-grade teacher at Shannon Elementary, said students in classrooms without a permanent teacher are often split into other classes for the day or taught by the principal. 

“I am concerned about their education,” he said. “I know these students. I’ve known them for several years. I’ve known some of their families for many years. And you might not know them personally, but I do, and they deserve the best. So I ask you to do whatever you can to get them a permanent teacher, quickly.” 

Board member Mister Phillips acknowledged the teachers and principals who spoke at the meeting, saying, “Your schools are important.” 

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