School system impacted by staff shortage

Many school districts across the country have experienced staffing and supply shortages, and Hopkinton was no exception.

Schools finance director Susan Rothermich said there are three areas where employment needs are greatest: bus drivers, cafeteria workers and school crossing guards.

“I think those are the areas where we struggle to fill positions,” she said, noting that hiring cafeteria staff is a problem that comes up every year. “And they have a very direct impact on the students, obviously. But I think where we are in this economy has exacerbated the struggle to hire restaurant workers. »

Patroller positions are also difficult to fill, she says, “because of the limitation of hours”.

“It’s not a full-time job,” she explained. “It’s a few hours in the morning and a few hours in the afternoon. That’s not a practical time frame for someone trying to have a normal day.

However, Superintendent Carol Cavanaugh added that it could be the perfect opportunity for retirees or people with more flexible schedules who would like to earn a little extra cash, especially as the holiday season approaches.

“We had someone once who applied for a job as a school crossing guard and said he was working on a novel,” she said. He told her he could be a school crossing guard in the morning and work on his writing in the library before his afternoon shift.

“He was able to make some money while pursuing his passion,” Cavanaugh added. “It’s the kind of thing people maybe don’t think about when they’re school crossing guards. But they must be outside in the rain and snow. It’s hard work, and we recognize that.

Filling school bus driver positions presents its own challenges due to the responsibilities involved.

“It’s a national problem,” Rothermic said. “The licensing requirements for a school bus driver position are enormous, and rightly so. They have a huge responsibility driving a huge vehicle with a huge number of children.

There are annual requirements for testing and professional development to maintain licenses, she added, which involves an investment of time for a candidate.

The lack of drivers has had some effect on sports programs, although Rothermich said no events have been cancelled.

“The shortage of drivers obviously impacts everything,” she said. “On a few occasions the team was late or an event had to be rescheduled.”

Due to a statewide shortage of school bus drivers, Governor Charlie Baker on September 15 called up as many as 250 members of the National Guard to make up for the shortfall in some communities, although this did not not affected Hopkinton.

Food shortages, which have become a national problem, also impacted cafeteria staff.

“I just made a blog where we were saying we’d have cheese pizza,” Cavanaugh said. “And then there is no cheese. Just go with the flow. Our food service managers and cafeteria workers just have to be very creative. »

Rothermich added that staff have adapted with food substitutions while ensuring students’ nutritional needs are met.

“You have to be very careful when changing a menu at any level,” she explained. “You have to be aware of the requirements and you have to think about the allergen requirements. It’s not as simple as replacing broccoli and carrots.

Cavanaugh and Rothermich praised food service staff members for their flexibility during a difficult time.

Another need created by the pandemic is for part-time nurses. The state’s Test and Stay program requires students who show symptoms of COVID-19 to receive rapid antigen tests to determine if they are negative for the coronavirus, which would allow them to stay in school.

“We haven’t had a case for a few weeks now, so we haven’t had a lot of test and stay cases right now,” Cavanaugh said. “But each test takes the nurses about 15 minutes.”

At times, it had taken up to 90 minutes to administer the tests, leading to principals and vice-principals pitching in.

“It’s really everyone on deck,” she added. “In the absence of professional nurses, directors and assistant directors are the support staff.”

While the staff are supportive, Cavanaugh joked there were limits.

“Headmasters joke around, ‘You’re not going to make me drive the bus,'” she said.

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Jeremy S. McLain