Straight ‘A’ in teacher attendance

Absentee rate low; Gilroy teachers in class 96 percent of the
time
Gilroy – Spitwads. Rubber bands. Note passing. Sleeping. Substitute teachers put up with their fair share of irritation.

But in the Gilroy Unified School District, students don’t often get a chance to annoy their subs, as permanent teachers are in their classrooms 96 percent of the time. In the Hollister School District last year, teachers were in the classroom only 74 percent of the time.

“For the short term, a day or two, having a substitute teacher is OK. Not great, but OK,” said Linda Piceno, assistant superintendent of human resources for GUSD. “It’s important to have teachers in the classroom because they provide the better quality instruction to our students. But it’s also foolish to think we’re going to have a 100-percent attendance rate.”

California law allows school employees one sick day per month at full pay, or about 10 days a year. They can take an additional 90 days off for sick time at half pay. After that, they are required to go on long-term leave, with pay, for up to periods of one year.

Attendance ratings are based only on paid leave and do not account for time schools use for staff development, although substitutes are employed for those days. Teachers are considered absent when they take time off because of illness, bereavement, jury duty or personal reasons.

All school districts are required to report absentee rates to the state as part of the School Accountability Report Cards, which detail data in terms of student achievement, staffing and other areas. The latest report for is from 2002-03. Calls to the state were not returned.

Generally, substitute teachers are not as well-trained and do not have the same credentials as full-time teachers, although they are required to hold a bachelor’s degree and pass the California Basic Educational Skills Test. Potential candidates also must be fingerprinted and file with the county for a substitute teaching permit.

Substitute teachers in GUSD earn $120 per day, while subs in Hollister and Salinas are paid $110 and $100, respectively. If a sub in GUSD has the same assignment for more than 10 days, the daily pay goes up to $140.

GUSD employs subs through a substitute teacher pool, which individual schools in the district use to obtain substitutes as necessary. The number of subs in the pool fluctuates, and Piceno said the district is in the process of working to recruit more subs.

“In this area, we are competing with Hollister and Morgan Hill,” Piceno said.

Greg Camacho-Light, assistant principal at Gilroy High School, once worked as a sub in the Hollister area. Speaking from experience, he said, the delight students feel when they see a sub enter the classroom is evident in their faces and behavior.

“It’s not easy for the sub coming in, because unfortunately students can to take advantage of that,” he said. “It’s important for the administration to support subs and be sensitive to the fact that it’s going to be a little rough.”

The exact number of substitute teachers needed at GHS last year and so far this year was not readily available. But Janie Gillespie, the principal’s secretary, said that on any given day, about five to six of the high school’s 105 full-time teachers are absent.

Gillespie said the number of absences was greater last year than this year, partly because staff development days – for which subs are needed – have been limited this year due to budget constraints, and also because many are reluctant to miss a day’s worth of material if they only have a minor illness.

As part of compiling the data for teacher absenteeism two years ago, Piceno said she searched for district trends but couldn’t find any.

“One year, a school could be very high (in teacher absenteeism), and the next year, it will be very low but high in another school,” she said.

Michael Nebesnick, principal at El Roble Elementary School, said teacher absences have been a little more common this year than in previous years, with one teacher out at least once a week.

But, Nebesnick said, short-term absences don’t affect classroom morale nearly as much as long-term leaves, such as when teachers have to take care of family emergencies or aging parents.

“That’s when we try to get a sub who’s willing to do more, on more of a permanent status,” he said.

Teachers in GUSD are required to provide subs with lesson plans for the day, Piceno said. Occasionally, plans that call for more detailed lessons.

“Unless it’s an emergency, generally, most teachers make the effort to make sure the lesson plans are there for the sub,” Piceno said. “Even if they’re incredibly sick, they’ll come in and make sure the sub has the materials needed.”

Although subs are the most common solution, sometimes those plans fall through, and assistant principals, principals and resource teachers have to scramble to cover the classroom.

“Subs sometimes choose not to take the job, or sometimes they’ll call us at 7am and they’re sick themselves,” Piceno said. “This year, it’s been fairly rare that we’ve been short.”

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