This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
In what’s become a more common strategy for public schools all over our region, the Philadelphia School District wants to outsource substitute teachers.
The District’s main goal is not necessarily saving money, but ensuring that fewer schools are left scrambling to cover classes on a day-to-day basis.
That’s welcome news to Maritza Hernandez, principal of Julia De Burgos Elementary School in North Philadelphia.
Of the 50 teachers in her building, she says, she has at least one — but sometimes many — call out each day of the week. Sometimes it’s for medical reasons, but many other times, she says, teachers just get burned out.
"Just frustration for lack of resources. We try to make it as positive as it can be, but unfortunately, it just doesn’t always turn out that way" said Hernandez, one of the District’s many first-year principals.
She says that many substitutes don’t want to come to Fourth and Lehigh. De Burgos Elementary sits in a neighborhood that’s often plagued by drug-related gun violence.
"They say, ‘No, I’m not going to come in. Not here.’"
Hernandez is not alone. When a teacher in the Philadelphia School District calls out, their spot is only filled, on average, 64 percent of the time. Remaining classes are covered with a hodge-podge approach: another teacher has to sacrifice a preparation period or the principal puts other duties on the back burner to be in class.
"It’s really challenging when you’re trying to increase academic achievement when you’ve got multiple days during a month when a class isn’t covered by a consistent teacher," said Naomi Wyatt, the School District’s chief talent officer.