COVID-19 surge causes staffing shortage

Hadley Carr

Prior to winter break, Wilson experienced a large staff shortage due to an increase in positive cases of COVID-19. 

According to Assistant of Strategy and Logistics Cynthia McFarlin, the rapid testing system immediately identified staff and students who tested positive, causing the largest number of absences in the 2021-22 school year.

Currently, Wilson has a limited availability of substitutes, with five daily substitutes—10 less than they had prior to the pandemic. 

When there are not enough substitutes available to cover for an absent teacher, McFarlin reviews the master schedule to find teachers who could fill in during their planning periods. There is also a form for teachers to volunteer to substitute. 

During the first week back from winter break, English and Film Studies teacher Sheeba Rashada substituted five to six times within the week. 

“It definitely caused me some anxiety because that planning period wasn’t there. So what it did extended my day,” Rashada said. “It didn’t take away from my students, but it definitely caused me extra stress,” she continued.

The shortage was further compounded by the delayed hiring process of DCPS, with paperwork impeding new teachers’ ability to come to Wilson.

English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher Lady Arteaga began teaching later in the year due to a delay in paperwork. The ESL program also had a teacher who did not return and the position was not restaffed until January. The Physics department hired a new teacher after the departure of Angela Benjamin, but with the delay extenuating the wait, the teacher found a different job, with a new teacher beginning in January. 

Such classes were taught by substitutes for the majority of the first semester.

Substitute Elizabeth Mettler worked as a long-term substitute until December for AP Physics and Honors Physics. She notes that the experience was “very rewarding, but also challenging though support from the administration and teachers was invaluable.”

Mettler didn’t have access to Canvas or Aspen, preventing her from posting homework or grades, disincentivizing students from completing their assignments. 

“This led to a lack of engagement at times which contributed to issues with classroom control,” Mettler said. She added that substitutes would also benefit from the DCPS central office creating a more effective plan for long term substitutes, including a school policy orientation, a procedure to allow them to enter grades, lesson plans to be passed on to future long-term substitutes. 

“It’s difficult to create lesson plans that just somebody can pick up,” ESL and Social Studies Department Chair Jonathan Shea added.

Shea notes that if he tested positive for COVID-19, he would try to meet with his students online to “minimize what would be lost with a substitute.”

Both Shea and Rashada are hopeful that there won’t be another outbreak.

Rashada continued to emphasize the collaborative and understanding atmosphere at Wilson.

“We’ve tried to do the best we can to support each other and the students to make sure that things still continue and [students] get the education that [they] deserve,” Rashada said. •