KOLD INVESTIGATES: Long-term subs in Pima County

TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - A man in charge of an elementary classroom in Tucson lost his job after video surfaced of students fighting while he sat in a chair nearby.

The video showed some children clashing and others attempting to break it up. Soon after the incident, administrators at Tucson Unified School District confirmed the long-term substitute seen in the video was no longer with the district.

A master teacher, which is a title reserved for those so good at their jobs that they serve as mentors or examples for newer educators, was transferred to Blenman Elementary to remedy the situation, according to Superintendent Gabriel Trujillo.

Trujillo said the issue in that school was primarily centered around the classroom where the fighting occurred.

The issue may have been resolved, but the KOLD Investigates team wanted to know more about long-term substitutes. Where they are teaching and how heavily do school districts rely on these subs?

The video showed some children clashing and others attempting to break it up. Soon after the incident, administrators at Tucson Unified School District confirmed the long-term substitute seen in the video was no longer with the district.

A master teacher, which is a title reserved for those so good at their jobs that they serve as mentors or examples for newer educators, was transferred to Blenman Elementary to remedy the situation, according to Superintendent Gabriel Trujillo.

This long-term sub, center, no longer works for the Tucson Unified School District after video surfaced of a fight in their classroom. (Source: Shamika High) 

A Look Across Pima County

Long-term substitute teachers commit to working in a classroom for an extended period of time. They can fill in for teachers who need surgery, have a family emergency or any other reason that falls under the Family Medical Leave Act.

In some cases, they can stay on for an entire school year. Trujillo estimated that close to 75 percent of the 92 long-term subs in southern Arizona's largest school district are filling vacant positions.

"It's not the ideal," he said. "It's certainly not the vision that we have for Tucson Unified School District."

Records provided by the district show that more than three dozen schools and programs in TUSD have long-term subs. Trujillo said his aim is to hire those with Arizona Department of Education certifications and, preferably, an endorsement for the subject they'll be teaching.

He said the subs are better than not having a teacher in the classroom at all. Children can continue their education while administrators search for the candidates they prefer, according to Trujillo.

"It's not what I want, it's what we have," he said. "It's not that our long-term subs are bad people. They're wonderful people. We love our long-term subs. They are saving us right now. They give kids a safe place to be. They provide consistency, structure. A lot of them are family members in the schools where they serve. But they're not the highly qualified teacher that kids should have a right to see every single day."

Seven of the roughly 31 full-time teaching positions at TUSD's Santa Rita High School are covered by long-term subs, according to district records. Only one other public school in Pima County has that many, Sunnyside's Challenger Middle School.

See if your school has any long-term subs filling positions with the help of this spreadsheet. Any public school not listed does not have a long-term sub.

A Grandmother's Frustration

Pat De La Ossa's son attended TUSD schools and now she d rops off her grandchildren at Pistor Middle School. She didn't agree with them attending the school, but understood her son's explanation that children want to go to school with their friends.

She's not worried about their friends, but their teachers.

"When I talk to my grandkids, there are things, sometimes, that amaze me," she said.

The grandmother, who wasn't aware four long-term subs are at Pistor, described a situation involving a long-term substitute teacher at their previous school, Miller Elementary. Her family was told it would be a temporary hire, but it lasted the rest of the school year, according to De La Ossa.

"It was a little frightening because you stop and think you're sending your children to school to get an education and they're bringing in teachers that really, basically, they don't know what they're doing," she said.

Money from the state may have something to do with it, according to De La Ossa. She said more support from state lawmakers might help, but she'd rather see administrators at TUSD find ways to make the money they already have work for them to better benefit the classroom. She said students, like her grandchildren, deserve qualified, full-time teachers in every room.

"And I don't think they're getting that because I think they're just shuffling these kids through the class ... and try to get them through the system, it seems like to me," she said.

Pat De La Ossa, whose grandchildren attend schools in the Tucson Unified School District. (Source: Tucson News Now)

A superintendent's solution

With six and five long-term sub positions at Valencia and Secrist middle schools, respectively, TUSD has three of the top four schools in Pima County.

Trujillo said part of the problem for some of these schools is perception that they have a troublesome student body, struggling leadership or poor working conditions. The challenge, as he sees it, is that perception becomes a teaching candidate's reality once they've chosen a school.

"I think perception gets out there over a period of time," he said. "And if there's one thing that those schools have in common, it's that they have new leaders that are trying to recreate campus climate and culture. ... So we're trying to support our new leaders and give them the tools and resources that they need."

The superintendent said that administrators work to improve situations where they have found perception to be the reality, like Booth-Fickett Math/Science Magnet School. The district provided additional resources to the school in November 2017 to help with discipline issues.

Incentives like a travel stipend for the more out-of-the-way schools could be a way to attract teachers to the district, according to Trujillo. He said he's working on a few options to present to the TUSD Governing Board.

Tucson Unified School District Superintendent Gabriel Trujillo. (Source: Tucson News Now)

"Just paying people doesn't solve the problem," he said.

As the #REDforED movement rallied support for public education, Trujillo said he would like to see state lawmakers provide more money for school campuses and classrooms.

He said paying for maintenance projects that have been deferred could be another positive point for hiring qualified teachers.

He said streamlining the hiring process has already helped. Trujillo said it's happened before where administrators find a candidate they like, but the individual accepts another district's offer because TUSD didn't move quick enough.

Trujillo said areas that seem to always be in demand include:

  • Math teachers
  • Science teachers
  • Reading specialists
  • Special education

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