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Field Trip: Substitutes In the House
The Clarksville-Montgomery County School System used to outsource their substitute teacher program. But in 2014, they decided to bring it back in house — no small thing for an office of just four people, in a district with 36,000 students. But… it’s a success.
- A savings of over $300,000 in just the first year
- A higher fill rate (99% the first year!)
- Over 800 substitutes hired into permanent positions since the program began
- Reclaimed instructional time
- A culture that values and recognizes substitutes as an integral part of the team
Today, we’re speaking with Melissa Izatt, Director of Educator Quality, about the why and how behind bringing the substitute program back under their own roof.
More substitute management resources:
- [VIDEO] Low substitute fill rates? Your substitutes might not be accepting jobs.
- A Roadmap to Substitute Engagement
- The Substitute Teacher Shortage: What’s behind it? What can be done about it?
- [PODCAST] No Substitute for Customer Service
Take a trip back to junior high with me for a minute. I can remember walking into class when I was in school, seeing a substitute teacher standing at the front of the room, and in my 7th grade mind, thinking, “Gonna be an easy day.”
That is exactly what our guest today is making sure doesn’t happen.
MELISSA IZATT: We wanted to make sure that the people we were putting in place were equipped to keep that instruction flowing so that when the teacher did come back, that time wasn’t lost.
At the end of the day to me the most important, beyond the cost savings, is where are we able to keep that consistency for the students? And were we able to provide them with quality people who want to be there to teach?
So to do that, they’ve completely retooled how they run their substitute program. And it’s had a pretty powerful impact, on everything from fill rates to substitute morale to how they hire new teachers.
MELISSA IZATT: I mean, you can be in a four year program or however many years it takes, but until you’re in that classroom with those students, it’s still not the real deal until you experience it, no matter how prepared you are you’re never prepared enough when you step in there.
From Frontline Education, this is Field Trip.
Not far from Nashville, the Clarksville-Montgomery County School System is the seventh largest district in Tennessee. It serves over 36,000 students, consists of 42 schools, and after the Fort Campbell Army Post, is the second largest employer in the area.
Over 2300 certified teachers teach in the district. And from 2005 to 2014, when one of those teachers was out sick, or took time away for professional development, or for any other reason wasn’t in the classroom, the district outsourced to a company to find substitutes.
But in 2014, the district said, “You know what? We’re going to bring this back in house, hire our own substitute teachers, take care of it ourselves.”
Now, we know that for all of you working in education, you might have 99 problems, but too much time on your hands ain’t one. So what made Clarksville-Montgomery County decide to take on this task? Well, to find out, I called up Melissa Izatt. Since 1999, she’s worked in the district as a substitute teacher, a teacher, and an assistant principal. She worked in Human Resources with the substitute program for five years, and now serves as the Director of Educator Quality, working to attract – and retain – the best teaching candidates.
Melissa told me that in 2014, their Director of Human Resources – who at the time was Cydney Miller, a colleague who now works here at Frontline – saw a number of benefits to running their own substitute program rather than relying on a separate company.
MELISSA IZATT: Going back just from my personal experience as a teacher, you know we were in house years and years ago, but it was a much smaller scale and we had one person making calls. And so around 2005, I believe, we outsourced with a company and we stayed with them until 2014. But at that time [Cydney Miller] thought about what could we do if we were able to bring it back in house and looking at the involvement we could have as a district directly involved with the people that we’re selecting. Also, a money saver, and could we use that money that we were spending on outsourcing to put back in the classroom in other ways while we’re building the capacity within our own program and having that involvement directly with the folks that we’re bringing on working with our students.
So when we brought the program back in house, yes, we wanted to make sure we were using the money in the best way possible, but we also wanted to improve the quality. And it’s very difficult to improve the quality if you don’t have that direct hand in who’s being selected and in the training. So that was the bonus to doing that, is that we had that ability. And so for me, when I came on with the program and worked with Cydney at the beginning and the development, it was very reflective of, what did I experience as a teacher? And also reflecting back on, as a sub, what were my experiences there? So when they made the initial decision, that was the goal, to improve the program but also saving the district the money and reinvesting it in ways that would impact the the children’s positively.
Since Melissa had the perspective of once being a substitute herself, I asked her to look at the pros and cons of bringing the program back in house from both the district side of things, as well as the substitute side.
MELISSA IZATT: Well, I think the pros, already saying this, the cost savings – that was incredible. Also, though, being able to direct your own recruitment. You know as a district what the expectations are, and having that direct involvement and direct connection with the people that are working with you, it’s difficult to do that when you’re outsourcing. You don’t know who’s being selected. You don’t know what the selection process is. We were able to design our own selection process. We designed our own induction training. The followup trainings that we were able to design all matched up with what the needs of the students and the needs of the classrooms and the teachers. Anytime when you’re taking that on the challenge of course is shifting, if you’ve been been with the program that had years of success outsourcing. But as as those years have gone on, you could see some changes and some declines in different things like fill rate. But overall, it was a successful program.
When you’re going to then shift directions and saying, “Well, we’re going to bring it back in house,” I think that that causes them some apprehension. I guess the way to put this is, back before we outsourced, smaller scale, that was difficult. When we outsourced initially you had this great result, but then as that went on you could see the decline. So to sell, to say, “Okay, well now we’re going to change again,” people were a little concerned. Is it going to work better or is it going to put us back to what we were pre-outsourcing? So I think that was a big challenge in making that decision.
And then just thinking about how we’re going to manage going from an outsourcing company that has a call center and different things like that, we’re going to manage that with our own in house office staffed with four people. So that you know that is a challenge in itself, but again, the pros outweigh the cons in that, because we had ways of… we really focused on building relationships with the schools and getting direct involvement from the schools, the office personnel, the principals. And by doing that, we never had that opportunity before because we weren’t directing that training or directing those placements in the classrooms. So even though there are challenges with it and just managing the number of absences we have a day and making sure that you feel that pressure if you don’t have them all filled, and you want to make sure that the best people are in there, but at the same time, the pros outweigh those those challenges.
When they were outsourcing, one problem, Melissa said, was that the chances to build ongoing relationships with substitutes were limited.
MELISSA IZATT: You would have repeat subs that would come back and you would have relationships with them, but it was a very low number, because just the the variability in who’s going to accept those jobs. It really was dependent upon, did the teachers build the relationships with the subs and plan ahead with them? But on most days you’re going to have different people and from the outsourcing standpoint, you did not have control of who was going to be in there unless you had a special request, and that wasn’t always something that could be be fulfilled. And if you’re looking at long-term, you’re at the mercy of that outsourcing company to identify who they feel is the best fit, and sometimes they may not know your specific needs. And and we didn’t really have that constant connection or communication where we were giving that input. Now if you had a concern, then of course you had the ability to to discuss that and that person may not return. But when it came to the opposite and the proactive fill of it, that wasn’t something that we really had an involvement in.
So talk to me about what it looked like when you made this switch, when you brought the program in house. It can’t have been easy. How did you go about doing it?
No, it was not easy. It was exciting, but you’re starting from scratch. So when we first started, I believe it was April of 2014 we were planning for that go live in August. We were going to start that you know that that school year off.
RYAN ESTES: Start that school year off, running the substitute program and filling absences, with a team of four people, that is.
MELISSA IZATT: With four people, exactly, with 35 to 40 thousand absences a year, which to some districts is probably not much, but it’s big for us and it would continue to grow and our district has grown so quickly that that number was going to increase.
So our first challenge was, how are we going to get enough people on staff? Because you had to go through the hiring process and training, and we didn’t just want to roll over because we wanted to make sure that we were selecting the best of the best to come on with us. So that year from April until August, we did interviews, we did daily orientations, and these orientations were full days, and every day we were doing them.
And by the end of the summer, by July, we had hired 500 subs. Some of those were subs that were existing with us in the previous outsourcing program, but they applied as well and went through that that same training and process, because our expectations, we were very detailed in the expectations of the program. And again, that was a great benefit of building the program from scratch, is because we could develop our policies that were in line with the district and what we expected our substitutes to do. You know we were very big, we didn’t want a babysitter, we didn’t want a warm body. We wanted to change that perception of just having somebody in the classroom. And so that started at the beginning when we were developing that training and those different steps that the subs went through as far as applying, references, and then just a general training.
So by July we had hired 500, or I’ll say August, we had hired 500 people. And then as our subs started filling those positions, the teachers, the schools started seeing those subs and then wanted to start hiring those subs into permanent positions. So you know that staffing was continuous. And I think to date, since that beginning in 2014 when we first started hiring the very first sub, we’ve hired over 3000 subs since then.
Hired and trained, yeah. But that’s the nature of that position. But we’ve also had about 800 of them that have been hired into permanent spots. So it was it was definitely, that was our biggest challenge, just to make sure, “Are we going to have enough people when day one hits?” And we did and we had a great first year. We had a great fill rate.
We had to go through trainings, we trained different key personnel at the schools. We trained bookkeepers on how they were going to approve time and what that was going to look like. That same year, we also automated our professional leave process, where before, people were doing paper sheets, we did everything through the system that we were using. And that was a change for everyone, but it was it was an increased efficiency and an area that we really needed to address.
So again, having that ability to start from scratch and develop our own way of doing things allowed us to do that. And it really impacted a lot of different departments. But lots and lots of training and prep, and then just support through that first year. And we had experts at every school by the end of that first semester. They could go into the system and make changes to things. They were empowered more to help manage their absences within the building. And that was the key to leaving having a company that had a call center to moving now into a four person office – you empowered the people at the school that had direct contact with those subs, direct contact with those employees, to have ownership in the management of their building absences.
RYAN ESTES: What did you see over that first year in terms of cost savings, in terms of your fill rates, in terms of the instructional quality? What what impact has that had?
MELISSA IZATT: The first year we had a 99% fill rate. And we had over $300,000 in savings the first year. And of course that was going to continue to increase, and then obviously it changes and it varies. It varies with the number of absences you’re going to have. I mean, we even restructured how we paid our subs. We went from what the former outsourcing agency was paying, we started paying on teaching experience. We wanted that value to be on people that have taught or people that were teaching or that were working to teach or to obtain their teaching credentials.
One of the areas that was a huge change for us that we were able to do by bringing it in house, is we started covering with special ed assistants. That wasn’t something we typically did without the outsourcing company. We did when it was a position that was going to be vacated for several days, then we would bring in a substitute, you could special request a substitute. But what we started doing when we brought this program in house is we provided all special education assistance with substitutes. So that consistency was there for the students.
But what we also started doing was providing our substitutes with professional development, and they would be in classes – extended professional development, beyond the general substitute orientation. They would be in professional development classes alongside teachers that are teaching the class. So if you had a scripted instructional program or any type of of initiative, they were getting the same training the teachers were getting, so that when that teacher was out, they knew exactly what was expected. And so that improved the consistency that we had with our teachers when they were gone, by having somebody step in and not just step in to be that warm body or to do that worksheet. You had to keep it going because when those students were missing one day or whether they were missing a week, we wanted to make sure that the people we were putting in place were equipped to keep that instruction flowing so that when the teacher did come back, that time wasn’t lost.
So we wanted it to be as similar an experience with the teacher not being there, as we possibly could. I mean, obviously there’s no replacement for the teacher, but we wanted to get as close as we could. And so that’s why we were able to really direct those trainings and mimic those trainings for these folks, so that they could be best equipped to do that.
RYAN ESTES: Now it may be a cost savings, of course, but it could also be more work to do this than outsourcing is. Did it have a lot of extra time required from you, and did that have downsides?
MELISSA IZATT: We have a team solely dedicated to this, and it does take a lot of time. But I think if you have the right people in place, we have a great team that always, you know, they owned it. And that can be a downside too, because you do own it. If you don’t have that fill, you own it. They take it personally. I mean, there were times that you would be down to one or two absences that didn’t have a fill, and people in my office – and again we’re a four person office and when we first started we were all in one room together – I would hear that they would get on the phone and say to the school, “I’ll come. I’ll come and do it.” And these are all people coming from, two of the folks came from schools and then one had worked in HR. This is the original team. And even since then, as we’ve had folks from the original team that have moved on to other positions, those that are coming in and filling in those spots and taking over those positions have come from different capacities within the district, and have worked in different areas. But they would volunteer to go. “I’ll come out there.” And then sometimes the schools, they would take them up on it. “Absolutely. We definitely need you.” And then other times the school would then say, “You know what? We’re going to figure this out.” But it was that willingness for them to do that, but that’s all because they they owned it and they wanted to see that 100% every day.
It’s hard as you go and the absence numbers increase and just the dynamic of the position changes, because when we first started, the economy was much different than it is now, and you had a lot of people that were struggling to find jobs. And so a lot of people were dedicated to working every day. As that changed, that’s a challenge that you face because you have to then adjust to, “What are our options right now? And how are we staffing right now? Are we staffing with people that want to work five days a week, or are we staffing with 90% of the people who want to work once every other week?” I think that has been a challenge.
The positive is that they own it, but that also can be a challenge sometimes, because sometimes you have to be able to say… And I would always tell them, “You know what, did you do the absolute best you could today to get those classrooms squared away? Did we think through every possible angle?” And at the end of the day, sometimes you don’t always have that 100%, but you know that you gave 100% of that effort. And that’s always been the biggest challenge, is not letting that day that may not hit where you want it to hit defeat you.
RYAN ESTES: I’m going to ask you to compare apples to oranges here for a second. As we think about a couple of the benefits that you have mentioned, you mentioned cost savings, you mentioned, of course, an increased fill rate, and you mentioned the fact that you’re really able to invest in your substitutes, provide ongoing professional development, impact educator quality, develop relationships. Is any one of these benefits one that you would say, “This is absolutely the most important thing to us? Or the biggest benefit that we have seen from a program like this?”
MELISSA IZATT: I think at the end of the day, the most important is what are we able to do for the students? And I speak from being a parent, from being a teacher in that class, from being a sub, an administrator, just from being all of those angles. But probably most importantly, as a parent, when you have your child, you send your child to school, you’re entrusting them with the person that’s there with them. Not just instructional, but in all aspects. And so I think for us as a program to know that we’re doing whatever we can to make sure that somebody is going to be there for those students, and sometimes it may not be a sub. Sometimes it may be that the sub program is working with the school to decide how can we cover this, how can we partner with you to to work through a plan? A plan within your building? If you have these people available or these people and… and it’s just brainstorming.
But at the end of the day to me the most important, beyond the cost savings, is where are we able to keep that consistency for the students? And were we able to provide them with quality people who want to be there to teach? We always tell them, if you’re not tired when you leave at the end of the day, then you didn’t do your job. Because you are going to be more than just showing up. And we get really direct when we’re training, because we want them to understand the impact that they do have. And I always give them an example, I say, “Tell me the name of the person that checked you out at the grocery store. Or tell me the name of, if you still use a bank and not online, tell me the name of somebody there “. Just different positions, and then none of them usually will raise their hand. Maybe a few here and there. And I’ll say, “Now stand up If you can tell me your kindergarten teacher’s name,” and every one of them will stand up. I say, “There is no position that you will ever work that will have the same impact that you will have in this position. They will remember you for years.” I say, “And whether they remember you for the good or for the bad, that’s in your control,” because we all do. We all know our teacher. We all know our favorite teacher, we all know our teacher that may not have been our favorite teacher. And it’s all about how they made us feel about ourselves.
And I said, “You have the opportunity to do that for an unending number of students.” And so I think for us, at the end of the day, if we can have people on board and put people in those classrooms that see it that way, they’re not doing it because they’re getting this tremendous paycheck. We could never pay them equivalent to what their value is. Those are the people that we want to have in the classroom, the ones that want to be there because of the impact, more than anything. And so I think when we feel like at the end of the day that we have a team of people focused on that, that to me is more important than any cost savings or any efficiencies or anything like that that we’ve been able to improve, if we know that we’re putting the right people with the students that are going to have that impact that needs to happen.
RYAN ESTES: Absolutely. You’ve talked about how your program helps you be more inclusive to substitutes, giving them a Clarksville-Montgomery County ID and email address and that kind of thing. Why is this important? What have you seen those efforts do?
MELISSA IZATT: Well, you’ll hear from the substitutes – it’s hard being the new person in any position. You know, your first new day on the job. And we always equate it to, you’re like the new person every single day, even just knowing where the break room is or where you sign in. So for them, they don’t want to have that awkward feeling like you have on the first day, where you don’t know where anything is. And so for them, being treated as part of the faculty, the students will view you that way too, if they are treated as separate or treat it as “just a sub,” that’s the mentality we did not want to happen. We wanted them to be part of that team. And so they appreciate being valued, giving them those badges, the school system badges were huge. They felt like they belonged and they could identify with our district again.
I say it’s never going to be the pay that keeps somebody doing it, although obviously that’s why work happens, you have to have that income, but they appreciate being valued and being recognized as part of something more so than I think that we could ever pay them. And so them feeling that level of respect. We always do end of the year surveys with our subs and have an end of the year lunch and learn, and we get that feedback from them like, “What are your concerns? Or what’s working, what’s not working? What should we change?” But one thing that’s always constant is they appreciate being treated like part of the team.
We had one school last year, as they were doing their end of the year recognition through their faculty, they recognized some of the subs there. They had like a pep rally at the end of the year where they were in front of the students and in front of everyone, and they brought up a couple of the subs and just thanked them, and that was huge for them. And we heard that from the subs. It was something so small, that would seem so small, but it was huge for that substitute to feel like somebody noticed and noticed the work that they’re doing, and they felt equal to the people, and professional, and that’s how they want to be treated. And you know, if we want them to treat the position as a professional, we have to treat them in the position as a professional.
RYAN ESTES: Let’s talk about data for a moment. Can you tell me what role data plays in your program? Do you use it to make better decisions, demonstrate return on investment? How do you use data and where do you get it?
MELISSA IZATT: The first year we’re looking at, do we have the fill rate? We want to maintain that fill rate or increase the fill rate. But we were also really looking at, are we saving money? We said we were setting out to save money, have better instruction, better folks in the positions. So that was kind of our primary focus with the data. But as the years have gone on, we already know we’re saving money. That was a given. But what can we look at in our practices?
So something that, when we look at data every single day, but we’re looking at daily planning, we can predict the absences like nobody’s business, we know it down to a science that you’re looking at a 15 to 20% increase at night, I can look at it at a certain time and we kind of make a game out of it for us, like, who’s going to get the closest? And we’ve gotten really good at it. But it helps us in knowing if I’m looking at Friday, on Monday if I’m looking ahead at Friday, we can already plan, all right, we know statistically this is what we’re going to have, but we know that this time last year this was the case. So we can communicate. We communicate directly with principals, level directors, our superintendent on certain situations to say, “Hey, this is going to be a huge day,” because then it gives them a heads up. They can start preplanning, they can start communicating with teachers, so that you don’t have that last minute “We don’t have a sub! What are we going to do?” Because we want to be as prepared as we can.
Sometimes we’re looking at schools and and we use that data to decide, okay, can we use them somewhere else? We’ve gotten to a point now where we will have schools that will say, “Hey I can cover mine, use these subs somewhere else.” And so we’ve had to really work to get it from being just a building level view to being a district level view, which is tough sometimes and it’s taken a while, but you know, having that ability to to share that data, they can see the data. They know how to use reports in their system.
We send the the automatic report to the principals every day with their absences, but also monthly with the with the summary. We meet with the principals twice a year, formally, I mean we we would meet with them anytime but formally twice a year, and we present them with the data. We show them, this is the number of absences for your school compared to the district, and then we’ll give them a dollar equivalent to, “This is how much the subs costs this year. Here’s how much of that cost is your percentage at your school.”
And what that does for them is it helps them to look into their own building to see, are there some areas that we need to look at? And a lot of times you can equate absence practices with cultural indicators. So it may be that, maybe we need to look at you know our building culture when it comes to absenteeism, or when it comes to reporting absences. So we’ve even gotten so deep into that, just by the data that we have and the comparisons that we can do.
It helps us you know again in tracking employee attendance, that’s one of our strategic work goals this year, is to explore the impact of employee attendance on student achievement. So we’re we’re working into that, but it’s taken us a while to get to that level of data analysis. But then also looking at the data that – we use feedback features in our program, and so looking at the feedback. Maybe we get feedback, constant feedback about a certain location. We’re able to look into areas there. Are there are things that we can do? Is it something on the school side that maybe they don’t know or they’re not aware of? Are we able to collect certain data on a a specific sub or just in general that helps us when we’re developing new professional development? If it’s an area we see a lot of concerns or data coming back on, low ratings in classroom management, then we’re able to say, “Okay, well this is what we want to direct our next focus on when it comes to that professional development.” What can we do to address it? And using whatever information we can gather to direct our next steps.
And even to recruitment strategies, I mean, we just recently looked at fill rates across the district and we pinpointed a certain campus, it has an elementary, middle, and high school, that had one of the lowest fill rates. So what we just recently did is we did a job posting for positions in only that zone, only in that campus. So they did an interest session. We do interest sessions and then orientations. An interest session basically gives you everything you need to know about what this job is going to be like, get you a sneak peek, so that they can decide if they want to move on with it. So we held that interest session at the campus that was identified as one of our lowest fill rates for the time, and the only people that came were the ones that specifically want to work at that location. So they had a great turnout, and they had the ability to go around the school, get familiar with it, and then that group of folks will solely be focused on working in those buildings. The schools have their direct contact so they’ve kind of created their own preferred grouping of people there. So that’s another way that we’re using the data to drive what we’re doing as a program .
RYAN ESTES: I want to ask you a little bit about hiring. You just mentioned hiring substitutes for a given school, but I’d like to think about something you mentioned earlier and that was that over time you have hired over 800 certified and classified permanent positions from your substitute program. I wonder if you could talk a little bit more about how this program really helps your recruiting efforts for permanent positions. Does it make people more likely, then, to want to come into a permanent position?
MELISSA IZATT: Absolutely. That was one of those things that you don’t really think about. When we were first looking at the program and the goals of the program, we really weren’t thinking about how that was going to impact – or I won’t say we weren’t thinking about it, we didn’t realize how much of an impact that would have. Our sub to perm hires, I mean that model, has been incredible as far as improving retention. And this has been on classified and certified side. So to talk about classified side, mostly you’re looking at special ed aides, and a lot of times in those positions, and you’re hiring folks into those positions that may never have been in a classroom, or they may never have been in a self contained special ed environment or or any type of position like that. So they meet the criteria and they they pass the assessment, but until you have that hands on and that’s with teaching,
I mean, you can be in a four year program or however many years it takes, but until you’re in that classroom with those students, it’s still not the real deal until you experience it, no matter how prepared you are, you’re never prepared enough when you step in there.
So what this has done is it has allowed folks that are interested, or maybe they thought they would never be interested in this, it’s given them a chance to try it out. They’re really only committing to seven and a half hours. If it’s, you know, either the best seven and a half hours of your life or it’s the worst, you get to decide whether you’re going to do it again. But it’s been great, because it’s allowed folks to really see what’s needed in this job. There’s no surprises when they go into it, because they’ve been in those positions.
A lot of times what we also have the ability to do since it’s in house, is when we have an open position that we’re hiring for, we put a sub in that classroom, and so the sub is working in that role. And many times, that sub’s the one that’s getting picked up for the position, but it gives them a chance to try it out, to see if they like it, develop their skills. It gives the principal an opportunity to see that person in action, to see what qualities do they have. Is this someone that’s going to be a good fit for us? It gives the sub a good opportunity to to see which schools do you enjoy? What’s the best fit for you? What matches what you feel meets your needs the best? Because for somebody to stay in a position, yes, you have to enjoy the position, but you also have to enjoy the people you work with. And I think it’s just about finding that right fit. So this gives everybody, the subs, the teachers, the principals, gives everybody an opportunity to kind of try it out first to find find out what your best fit is.
RYAN ESTES: And it sounds like that might had a huge impact on whether they stay there, whether you’re able to retain them too.
MELISSA IZATT: Absolutely, yes. Because you take out that variable of the unexpected, because they’ve already experienced it, and you’re also increasing their experience going into it, because they’ve already been in those positions or they’ve already worked with those students. So they’re taking out that piece of the unknown and coming in already with experience under their belt that they wouldn’t have. It’s constant on the job experience for them.
RYAN ESTES: I just have one more question, and that is how have you changed the program over time? What have you learned since you began bringing the program under your own roof, and how does it look different now from it did at the beginning?
MELISSA IZATT: You know I think our core values are still the same. I mean, that’s always going to be the same. I think how we achieve our goals is having to change and just speaking about that earlier about the economy’s very different, that’s ever-changing. So your challenge of you may have an abundance of applicants one year, you may not have that same number of applicants the next year, or maybe your applicant pool or your substitute pool and their personal needs are very different from year to year. It is one of the hardest positions to recruit for because we all remember having substitute teachers.
I always tell them it’s like karma, I say however you treated your sub when you were a student, you’re now on the opposite side of that. I said so sometimes it is a hard one to recruit for. But it also comes down to how we can sell that recruitment to them. It’s more than just you showing up at this building. You’re going to be a part of that building and you’re going to be a part of that education and a part of that continuity that they need. I think the key for us, and this will be a constant, but how we do it has to change. We have to provide an environment and an experience that shows how much we value them. And we constantly are having to reflect on our current status – what’s working for us? What’s not working for us? And just change as the programs need to change.
So some policies that we had in place at the beginning ,we had a policy in place when we first started that subs worked once every 90 days to stay active. I know different districts do it differently, but that was really hard for us to track, who do we actually have? I can say we have 500 subs on staff, but if 200 are never working, then do we really have 500 on staff? So you know we updated a policy like that, we changed the number of days to once every 30 days, because another view on that is, to me as an educator, if you’re not in a classroom doing it, you’re not getting any better at it. And so we need people in the classroom. We need you to get in there and experience it.
We instituted a probationary period with our subs, because sometimes it’s a great fit and sometimes it’s a challenge. Sometimes we need to give them more support in a certain area. And instead of just saying, “Okay, you’ve come through orientation, we’re going to set you loose, we hope you enjoy it,” we wanted to be able to follow up more with them. And so we have that probationary period, where they have a minimum number of jobs that they need to take, we get that feedback, we work with them. If it’s an area that maybe the feedback we’re getting is they struggled with management, then maybe we do something with them or we provide them an additional training, or maybe we see that, “You know what? You’re a better fit at the elementary level.” And so we we direct them to that, but it gives us, by instituting that policy and that practice, it gave us the opportunity to have a better connection with the subs.
And then the other key is, everything that we’re doing has to be built around the relationships and creating that shared energy that’s focused on the same common goal ,and it has to come from the subs, from the school, from the sub program, from everybody that’s working with those students. Everybody has to be working for the good of the student. The little pieces in place, I mean we may have to change the order that it’s happening or be willing to change things. This year we’ve had a more difficult year with just being creative with the staffing and making sure that because the staffing needs change and they’ve changed quite a bit this year, different variables, but it’s just being willing to roll with that and to try new things. And again like I was saying with the specialized recruitment, we’ve not done that before with specialized areas, but that’s something that we’ve had to do this year. And just being comfortable with not always doing it the same way that you did it. What worked in 2014 is not necessarily going to work in 2019.
RYAN ESTES: How true.
Melissa Izatt is the Director of Educator Quality at the Clarksville-Montgomery County School System in Tennessee. Melissa, it’s been really good to speak with you today. Thank you for joining us.
MELISSA IZATT: You too! Thank you so much.
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Field Trip is a podcast from Frontline Education, the maker of Frontline Absence & Time. That includes Absence & Substitute Management – which you might know by its old name: Aesop. Frontline makes it easy to proactively manage employee absences, find substitutes, and track employee time and attendance, all in one place.
For Frontline Education, I’m Ryan Estes. Thanks for listening, and have a great day.