Friday, February 20, 2009

A Great Solution to a Bad Problem

On the one hand, it seems pretty awful that the Lancaster Independent School District (just south of Dallas) doesn't have the budget to pay substitute teachers right now. But I really love their solution:
Eliminating the budget for substitute teachers, a cost-cutting idea introduced in Lancaster schools four months ago, is getting mixed reviews from parents, students and staff.

And the state-appointed monitor who controls the district's purse strings is promising to restore the funding next school year.

In October, the district stopped hiring substitute teachers and instead asked office staff, counselors, librarians and other personnel to fill in for absent teachers. Implementing the idea has created a daily challenge for principals, who shuffle employees from job to job in an attempt to cover all classes.

"We're doing the very best we can with it," said Lancaster ISD Interim Superintendent Dana Marable, who last week filled in briefly for a first-grade teacher. "We're all pitching in and trying to help as much as possible."
I love that last part--the superintendent substituted! Wouldn't it be even better if she did that every day? My pet educational solution makes even more sense in tricky economic times; we simply can't afford to pay as many non-teachers as we're doing now.

Not everyone in Lancaster is doing this, of course:
Junior Aisha Manning, 17, said her high school language arts class has spent much of this year sitting in the gym.

"It was like once or two times a week," she said. "They just took roll and escorted us to the gym. We could talk, laugh, play, anything."

Parent Cynthia Corbin learned from her daughter, Shanequia Jarvis, that the students sent to the gym weren't required to do school work.

"These kids are not going to pass the TAKS in March because they haven't had any instruction," Corbin said. "I was told by the principal's secretary that any time a teacher is out, they all go to the gym."
Well, actually, the bigger problem is that students won't learn anything if they get sent to the gym; the TAKS test is not the prime objective here (and I can't wait until it goes away for high school students is a few years), but Corbin's point is well taken.

And the superintendent, fresh from her temporary teaching duties, is on board with the proper solution:
This month, Marable told Lancaster High School Principal Roosevelt Nivens to find another way to handle teacher absences.

"I told him we're not going to have students sit in the gym, not when you have seven assistant principals who can sub," Marable said.
She couldn't be more correct here. Obviously, Lancaster--like all districts--needs to get its regular platoon of subs in place again, but in the meantime, wouldn't it be great if the administrators-in-the-classroom idea became, might I say, habit-forming? One can only hope...

Not going postal anymore, but still annoyed: I finally got my mail today, four business days after it was supposed to have resumed. It turns out there was a small unknown glitch on my end--my visiting parents neglected to tell me last night that they'd spoken to the letter carrier yesterday--but the biggest problems were still of the USPS's making: The call I was supposed to get yesterday went to my house phone, not my cell, despite my specifically telling them to call the latter, and the letter carrier didn't seem to think I had put a "stop date" on my hold, even though the form I filled out--a copy of which he put in my box last week--had it ending last Saturday. I may have to find some sort of an alternative to a mail hold the next time I go out of town for an extended period, because this thing was a complete fiasco from start to finish.

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