Nashua short on substitute teachers

NASHUA – High school seniors Patrick Gillis and Hailey Sweeney said they are losing valuable classroom time because the Nashua School District cannot find enough substitute teachers.

“At least in the high schools, more often than not, when one of my teachers isn’t present that day, I’m in the auditorium with three-to-four other classes because they don’t have enough subs. And we’re literally just sitting there,” Gillis, a senior at Nashua High School North, told Board of Education members last week.

Gillis and Sweeney, a senior at Nashua High School South, serve as student representatives to the BOE. The matter came up for discussion during a board session last week. Sweeney said at South, most students simply sit in a lecture hall with an administrator when there are not enough substitutes.

During the board meeting, district Human Resources Director Dana O’Gara said the district has about 300 listed substitutes that do not actually work anymore. District officials said they typically need up to 30 substitutes per day just to cover the two high schools.

“We have a problem where subs don’t resign or tell us that they’re not subbing for us anymore,” O’Gara said.

According to Nashua Superintendent Jahmal Mosley, the lack of available substitutes is partially due to low unemployment throughout New Hampshire and, perhaps, a relatively low rate of pay.

Board of Education member Howard Coffman is, himself, a substitute teacher. Coffman said the two main issues creating the shortage are low wages and student behavior.

According to Coffman, a neighboring school pays substitutes $85 per day. This compares to anywhere from $60 to $75 per day at Nashua, according to BOE member Heather Raymond.

“It is something we are all concerned about,” Raymond said. “I would love to see a solution to this.”

Coffman also said he has witnessed negative and uncooperative encounters between high school students and substitute teachers. This, he surmised, could discourage some from continuing to work.

President of the Nashua Teachers’ Union President Adam Marcoux said during last week’s meeting, paraeducators are often filling in for the lack of substitutes. Marcoux said that impacts other classes if there are no replacements for paraeducators on that day.

“When you pull a paraeducator, in some cases you’re affecting five classrooms,” Marcoux said. “Yes, we have to cover that classroom, but there’s a ripple effect on that day.”

Coffman acknowledged the life of a substitute teacher can be quite different from day-to-day. Rarely do they get to focus on an area of expertise, as he or she may be required to teach kindergarten one day, followed by high school physics the next.

“You don’t have to have subject matter expertise to be a substitute,” Coffman said. “What we need is a pair of adult eyes in a classroom.”

Tara Kinsella, Mosley’s secretary, said board officials hope to discuss data related to the issue and report it at the Finance & Operations Committee meeting next month.