Wednesday, September 22, 1999

there is no substitute
for Hawaii public
school teachers

There are plenty of fill-ins,
but qualified replacements are
harder to come by

By Crystal Kua


An estimated 700 to 800 Hawaii teachers are absent from school on any given day.

But unlike the mainland, where qualified substitutes are hard to come by, Hawaii usually has enough to plug the gaps, according to a state Department of Education official.

"We fill most of our jobs throughout the year," personnel specialist Maxine Joe said.

The state has about 12,000 public school teachers and a pool of about 3,900 substitute teachers, she said.

But even with the healthy pool numbers, there are certain times of the year -- and some subjects, geographic areas and grade levels -- in which qualified substitutes are harder to come by.

And substitutes will play a pivotal role as isle schools aim to implement standards-based education.

As on the mainland, the economy has played a role here in determining the number of substitutes available, but in the opposite way, Joe said.

Mainland school districts have had to work harder to attract and keep qualified substitutes, because a thriving economy has provided more lucrative jobs elsewhere. Schools have seen their substitute pools drop by at least 10 percent, and some report much steeper declines.

Here, a weak economy in recent years has led more people -- particularly college graduates -- to turn to substitute teaching when they can't find a job right away or have been displaced from work. Substitutes are paid from $97.90 to $113.20 a day, depending on their qualifications.

Special course required

Substitutes in the highest classification and making the most money hold bachelor's degrees and have taken teacher-training courses. Also in this category are retired teachers and others who have taught previously.

All substitutes are required to take a substitute teacher course at an adult community school. Described as an "induction" into the DOE, the course covers policy, rules and regulations, and classroom management and provides an instructional model.

Despite that, finding enough qualified substitutes in all areas may still be a problem.

"Teachers are having trouble getting quality subs," Hawaii State Teachers Association spokeswoman Danielle Lum said.

Teachers who want time off for professional training and can't find the right substitutes will sometimes ask another teacher to double up -- or opt not to go, Lum said.

"They just don't want to leave their classes to anybody. They look for subs that are good for the students, otherwise it's a day lost," Lum said. "We don't want subs to be high-paid baby sitters. It doesn't service anyone's needs."

Training offered

Joe said the department feels the same way. But while the department tries to get substitutes with at least a bachelor's degree, some places like parts of the neighbor islands at times don't have people with that kind of background.

And it can be even harder to get substitutes who are interested in high school and special education assignments, Joe said.

The department is trying to remedy some of that with training for substitutes.

Last year, for instance, substitutes received training on the Felix consent decree, the federal court mandate to improve educational services for special needs children. After the training, substitutes were not as reluctant to take special education assignments, Joe said.

This past summer, substitutes also attended a seminar on standards-based education.

"They asked, 'Why must I know it?' " Joe said. "It's instilling professionalism."

Joe said schools are advised not to plan professional training when teacher absences are likely to be high. Average teacher absences peak in the spring at 1,500 to 1,600 a day because that's the most popular season to hold training, Joe said. Consequently, it's sometimes more difficult to get substitutes, especially for emergency or last-minute assignments.

This also will be especially true when schools look to implement standards-based education in the classroom during coming months.

Implementing standards

HSTA President Karen Ginoza agreed that some kind of coordination is needed with substitutes when a school, a complex of schools or even an entire district seeks to implement the recently revised Hawaii Content and Performance Standards, which sets academic targets for students.

Ginoza said she believes successful implementation of the standards calls for schools as a whole to be trained, which means getting enough substitutes for that training.

Joe said schools also could invite their regular substitutes to standards training sessions. "We have emphasized, 'Please, include these people.' They are instructional employees ... and it would provide a little more evenness."

Newhouse News Service contributed to this report.

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