Staffing still key challenge of COVID-19

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Woodrow Wallace Elementary in Lake Isabella.

By D. Beasley

One of the most difficult challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic has been finding enough staff, especially substitute teachers, Kernville Unified School District Superintendent Steve Martinez told the school board at its Nov.10 meeting.

“It’s nothing that the staff is doing,” the superintendent said. “It’s the requirements that have been put in place for screening COVID symptoms. If you have a cough, we might send you home or tell you not to come in today until you go to the doctor and have a COVID test.”

The school system has reopened in-school instruction for elementary school students but has delayed middle school reopening until February, Martinez said.

“Our plan for elementary school students coming to school is working,” he said, “It takes a lot of work, a lot of effort, a lot of adjustment. We were able to bring those kids back. If we were to add middle school students, we may not be able to sustain that.” The superintendent expressed his confidence in the distance learning program for middle school students.

Even before the pandemic, it was challenging to find enough substitute teachers, Martinez said.

“If you know anyone who needs some part-time work and wants to substitute, send them our way,” he said. “We’re always in need.”

School system staff is now self-screening for COVID-19, Martinez told the board. “I send out an email at 5 a.m. just reminding them to go through the symptoms,” Martinez said.

He also encouraged school staff to get some rest over the Thanksgiving holidays after some difficult past few months coping with the pandemic.

“Usually there is that clear break between from one school year to the next,” Martinez said, “I feel like it’s kind of run together and I think a lot of the staff feel the same way. Take some time off. We need that mental health refresher.”

The district is also currently participating in a program called Additional Targeted Support and Improvement (ATSI), Martinez told the board. “We are in ATSI because of our chronic absenteeism rate and our suspension rate,” he said.

“The state is telling us we need to work on those to bring them lower. We’re working with the County office on this. They are offering support and guidance as we work through lowering our chronic absenteeism and suspension,” Martinez explained to the board.

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