EATON — The Preble County Educational Service Center (ESC) elected Board of Education officers and discussed online learning and substitute teacher shortages during its first monthly meeting of 2021 on Wednesday, Jan. 27.
Board member Eric Green was elected President and Kevin Johnston Vice President at the top of Wednesday’s meeting. Green thanked his fellow board members for nominating him.
“Hopefully we have an energized year, and maybe things will get a little more back to normal,” Green said.
The board passed a resolution updating several of its policies in accordance with the requirements of Title IX, federal civil rights legislation which prohibits sex-based discrimination in any school or other educational entity which receives federal money.
Board member Rhonda Schaar asked whether updates specifically related to face-covering mandates in public schools would presumably be rescinded once the COVID-19 pandemic has passed. Assistant to the Superintendent Shawn Hoff confirmed that this was so.
“Hopefully when we get to next year that’ll be a thing of the past,” Hoff said.
Hoff also updated board members on the availability of coronavirus vaccines in Preble County.
”Gov. DeWine has put together a COVID Vaccine Taskforce, and as part of the vaccine rollout they are disseminating information to the 51 ESCs in the state of Ohio,” Hoff later said in a written statement to The Register-Herald. “And in turn the ESCs are responsible for communicating with local school districts in their respective counties to assist in scheduling between schools and providers.”
The governor’s task force has set up daily telephone meetings with ESC superintendents to provide information, updates and receive feedback about the vaccination process in each county as it unfolds, according to Hoff. He stated that Preble County school districts should begin receiving vaccines the week of Feb. 15.
All local school districts have decided to partner with Preble County Public Health as their vaccine provider, according to Hoff.
“They have been an integral part of the schools’ plans to keep students and staff safe since last March,” Hoff said. “There are many factors involved in setting up the logistics, and we are working collaboratively to ensure a safe and efficient vaccination process. “
Hoff addressed the dealings of Preble County’s schools with Edmentum, an online platform chosen by Twin Valley Community, National Trail and Preble Shawnee Local School Districts to administer remote learning options to students.
“As districts prepared to return to school earlier this year, National Trail and Twin Valley worked together with us to find an online provider that could meet the needs of the districts’ students in an efficient and cost-effective way, while providing the rigor of content similar to that being provided in each district,” Hoff said. “After meeting with a few different providers the decision was made collectively to use Edmentum.”
Once the districts began working with Edmentum, however, they began having issues with customer service, according to Hoff.
“[National Trail] Superintendent Bob Fischer and [Twin Valley Community Schools] Superintendent Scott Cottingim and I all kept reaching out to Edmentum with little response,” Hoff said. “Parents and students in each of these districts were not having a good experience, which did not line up with the districts’ expectations, nor those of the ESC.”
After many meetings with Edmentum representatives, Hoff said, the districts asked the company for a refund in the amount of $31,000.
“We made it very clear to Edmentum that our parents, students, administrators, school boards and communities were dissatisfied with the service they were receiving versus the service we were promised,” Hoff said. “We also made it very clear that we would be seeking a different vendor in the future.”
Edmentum granted the refund request, according to Hoff; National Trail will receive a refund of $13,640, while Twin Valley will receive $17,360. Preble Shawnee was not included in this arrangement, as they reached a separate agreement with Edmentum and were not involved in joint negotiations with the other districts.
Substitute Teacher shortage
Hoff also addressed recent changes to Ohio law loosening the requirements for receiving a substitute teaching license.
“The availability of substitute teachers has grown more scarce in recent years,” Hoff said. “And as the COVID-19 pandemic hit, it had a significant impact on the number of substitutes who were willing to work in the schools.
“As the school year began we lost approximately 30 percent of our substitute teachers,” Hoff continued. “We were able to interview and hire a few during the first few months of the school year, but school districts and ESCs across the state began to contact legislators to ask for assistance.”
Preble County began the month of December with only 72 active substitutes, according to Hoff. In particular, Tri-County North Schools had approximately 70 percent of their vacancies go unfilled, while Preble Shawnee was short-staffed during 56 of the first 59 instructional days of the school year.
“Our teachers and school districts are doing everything they can to keep students in school. We have had teachers covering other classrooms during their planning periods, administrators stepping in to sub as well as superintendents covering classes when they are able,” Hoff said.
As a result, Ohio Senator Matt Huffman sponsored Senate Bill 388, Hoff said, which allows flexibility in substitute teacher requirements.
“This gave local districts the flexibility to determine what they would accept as qualifications to be a substitute teacher,” Hoff said.
Language from the bill was ultimately added to House Bill 409, according to Hoff, which was signed by Gov. DeWine on Dec. 30. While previously substitute teachers were required to hold a bachelor’s degree, changes in effect for the remainder of the 2020-21 school year allow districts to accept individuals with an associate’s degree or even a high school diploma.
“Subs must be at least 21 years of age, be of good moral standing and pass the required background checks,” Hoff said. They should also have experience working with children and teaching them in some capacity, according to Hoff.
Reach Anthony Baker at 937-683-4057 or on Facebook @mproperenglish