Unbalanced equation: More summer school students during teacher shortage

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GRAND RAPIDS, Mich., (WOOD) — Local school districts are preparing to welcome several thousand summer school students in the midst of a teacher shortage. 

Last year, COVID-19 cases and resulting quarantine periods took many teachers out of the classroom for a number of days. Local schools also reported an increase in teachers retiring. All of this led to a teacher shortage and districts being forced to rely more on an already limited pool of substitutes.

Districts say at the same time, students fell behind as they worked to adjust to virtual learning and battled the mental impacts of the pandemic.

“This an area we knew was going to be an issue and we would do our best to resolve it but the pool is what it is right now. We did offer incentives for our teachers to teach,” Godfrey-Lee Public Schools Superintendent Kevin Polston said.

Polston said about 400 students in his district in Wyoming are enrolled in summer school this year. On a typical year, there would be about 100 and 150 students. 

“We’ve seen parents that are very interested in making sure their students have everything they need for success in future years. So we’ve seen more than double the amount of students in our summer programming. We’re approaching 25% of our students in the district,” Polston said.

The issue is also affecting Grand Rapids Public Schools, which jumped from 1,325 students enrolled in summer school last year to 4,088 students this year.

“We are tripling the number of students being served during the summer,” GRPS spokesperson John Helmholdt said. “So a substantial increase in the number of students attending summer school.”

Helmholdt said that because the district already has a large employee pool of 2,000 people, it was able to fill all teaching positions this summer. He said the problem for GRPS has instead been getting enough people to fill roles for the after-school LOOP program.

“We’ve only filled about a third of the positions that are needed and they’re paid the same rate as the teachers at $60 per hour. That’s a good rate,” Helmholdt said.

Godfrey-Lee says that though it is paying teachers the same rate they would make during the school year, it couldn’t fill every summer position before students started last week. Polston said the district will have to rely on substitutes to fill vacancies. 

Districts say summer school is just one part of getting students back on track. They say it will likely take several years to get all students caught up.

Both districts say they are hiring for summer school and the 2021-2022 school year. Information for jobs in the Godfrey-Lee or GRPS districts can be found online.

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