Meeting the staffing needs of a hybrid model is one of the most challenging aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic for school districts. South Orangetown is no different. As district administrators and union leaders mapped out the logistics of SOCSD’s reopening plan this summer, ensuring that teachers with children of their own would be able to return to work in person was a critical concern.
Despite a long-standing, local substitute shortage, by late August, SOCSD secured eight credentialed substitutes to replace staff on medical or previously scheduled leaves this fall. But it wasn’t enough.
“We had an additional 35 teachers who reported that they would need to request leaves in order to provide care for their own school-aged children,” recalls Director of Staff Relations Joseph Lloyd, Ph.D. “Without teachers, there is no school.”
St. Thomas Aquinas College (STAC) is one of many institutions that partners with SOCSD on an ongoing basis to support student teacher placements and other educational programs. Due to the pandemic, several students assigned to other school districts lost their fall placements. To solve SOCSD’s potential staff shortage, Executive Director of Pupil Personnel Services Karen Tesik, Ed.D., reached out to the faculty at STAC to develop a unique experience for student teachers to interact with children and participate with their cooperating teachers. Once a plan was outlined, the issue became space. Educators Association of South Orangetown leadership became actively involved in identifying potential sites. “After several days, and with the assistance of Robert Chiapperino, the Blauvelt Sons of Italy, a long-time sponsor of Student of the Month and scholarship programs, offered to house a small child care program for staff at its lodge,” explains Tesik. “These efforts speak to who we are as a District. We work together to support our students, faculty and community. I am truly grateful to all of our partners.”
EASO President Bill Hughes worked with nearly 25 members in need of childcare to cover the related costs; the District paid for insurance. “As the school year got closer, we realized that one of the biggest hurdles to getting folks back to work was going to be figuring out how we might assist them in the difficult task of finding childcare. Everyone involved understood that it was going to take a creative solution that involved all stakeholders,” says Hughes. “Karen Tesik had the great idea of engaging student teachers and when we started to think about locations, she contacted the Sons of Italy. Their willingness to step in to help was the final piece in the puzzle. EASO member and SOMS teacher Deb Dituri became the point person who worked with Karen in developing a plan of how we would move forward together. The commitment on the part of the District to partner with EASO, STAC and the Sons of Italy is greatly appreciated by staff members who are using the childcare option and all staff who are happy to have our co-workers back at school with us.”
The program, which currently runs through December 31, serves 35 children in grades K-6 who are participating in their home school district programs on a hybrid or fully remote basis, with on-site support from STAC student teachers. Family Engagement Center Coordinator AJ Walker provides day-to-day logistical oversight.
This collaborative is one example of several that have supported South Orangetown schools over the years, according to Superintendent of Schools Robert Pritchard, Ed.D. “I am grateful to our community partners at the Blauvelt Sons of Italy and STAC for their support of our children and our staff. This unique solution minimized disruption to our classrooms at a time when our students truly need stability and a sense of normalcy in their lives,” he says.