900 apply for new RI substitute teacher training

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — More than 900 people filled out a form to take a training course to become a substitute teacher in less than a week after Gov. Gina Raimondo announced the program, according to the R.I. Department of Education.

The program launched last week amid a widespread substitute shortage that predated the pandemic but has become ever more urgent as teachers quarantine in droves due to contact tracing of COVID-19 cases.

The state is paying $221,300 to the Highlander Institute, according to a contract provided by the state on Tuesday, in order to create an online course to train the subs, maintain a hiring list and provide ongoing coaching.

The application is still open online, and the 900 people who expressed interest so far are sure to be whittled down during the screening process for qualifications. (The state requires two years of college and a criminal background check.)

RIDE spokesperson Pete Janhunen said it was not immediately clear whether the state would train more than the 200 people originally planned in the contract with Highlander.

The first cohort of 25 subs is expected to be deployed by Oct. 26, according to the Highlander contract, with more subs being trained on a rolling basis through December.

Highlander is expected to maintain a pool of qualified candidates, from which local districts will be able to hire.

The substitute shortage was one of the many concerns as schools reopened in September, with districts aiming to hire building-based subs in order to avoid potential cross-contamination of the virus between multiple schools.

It soon became clear there were not enough substitute teachers to go around, and multiple districts scrambled to raise their pay rates in order to compete with neighboring districts.

Woonsocket and North Providence reverted their high schools to remote learning recently in part because there were not even substitutes to fill the classrooms of teachers who were placed in quarantine due to a small number of coronavirus cases.

Even with the state’s recruitment program, the subs will be paid by the individual districts, at rates ranging between $90 to $150 a day.

The staffing shortages are just one of the reasons why Rhode Island schools did not reach the goal of offering full in-person learning to all students by Oct. 13, a deadline Raimondo set back in August.

Raimondo told all school districts — other than Providence and Central Falls — that they must have fully in-person school by Oct. 13, excluding those who opt for virtual learning.

The goal was clearly not met. Multiple districts have chosen to remain in a hybrid model, especially for older students, which allows them to switch between in-school and virtual models in order to keep class sizes smaller.

Warwick is only just starting to phase younger students into a hybrid model after using predominantly virtual learning for the first month of the school year.

RIDE was not immediately able to say Tuesday how many students in Rhode Island are being offered full in-person learning, but said 51 districts or charter schools implemented full in-person learning plans as of Tuesday.

The list came with a large caveat, though: districts that are still in hybrid models or even have fully-remote individual schools were nevertheless marked “yes” as implementing their full in-person plan.

Only Pawtucket Public Schools and two charter schools — The Learning Community and International Charter School — were considered a “no” for full implementation of in-person learning on RIDE’s list. Seven others — Coventry, Cumberland, North Smithfield, Times2Academy, Urban Collaborative, Warwick and Woonsocket — were listed as “in progress.”

Steph Machado (smachado@wpri.com) covers Providence, politics and more for WPRI 12. Follow her on Twitter and on Facebook

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