School system impacted by staffing shortages

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Many school districts across the nation have experienced staff and supply shortages, and Hopkinton has been no exception.

Schools Finance Director Susan Rothermich said there are three areas where employment needs are the greatest: bus drivers, cafeteria workers and crossing guards.

“I think those are the areas where we struggle trying to fill positions,” she said, noting that hiring for cafeteria staff is an issue that arises every year. “And they have very direct student impact, obviously. But I do think that where we are in this economy has exacerbated the struggle to hire food service workers.”

Crossing guard positions also are difficult to fill, she said, “because of the limitation on the hours.”

“It’s not a full-time job,” she explained. “It’s a couple of hours in the morning and a couple of hours in the afternoon. It’s not a convenient time frame for somebody who is trying to have a normal day.”

However, Superintendent Carol Cavanaugh added that it may be the perfect opportunity for retirees or people with more flexible schedules who would like to earn some additional money, especially with the approaching holiday season.

“We had had someone once who applied for a crossing guard position who said he was working on a novel,” she said. He told her that he would be able to be a crossing guard in the morning and work on his writing at the library before his afternoon shift.

“He was able to earn a little bit of money while pursuing his passion,” Cavanaugh added. “Those are they types of things that maybe people don’t think about when being a crossing guard. But they do have to be out in the rain and the snow. It’s hard work, and we recognize that.”

Filling school bus driver positions presents its own challenges because of the responsibilities involved.

“That’s a national issue,” Rothermich stressed. “The licensing requirements that go into a school bus driver position are enormous, and rightfully so. They have a huge responsibility driving an enormous vehicle with a tremendous number of kids.”

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

The lack of drivers has had some effect on the athletic programs, although Rothermich said no events were canceled.

“The driver shortage impacts everything obviously,” she said. “A couple of times, the team was late or an event had to be rescheduled.”

Because of the lack of school bus drivers statewide, Gov. Charlie Baker on Sept. 15 called in up to 250 members of the National Guard to alleviate the shortfall in some communities, although this did not affect Hopkinton.

Food supply shortages, which has become a national issue, have impacted the cafeteria staff as well.

“I just recently put together a blog where we were saying we would have cheese pizza,” Cavanaugh said. “And then there’s no cheese. You just have to go with the flow. Our food service managers and cafeteria workers just have to be very creative.”

Rothermich added that the staff has adapted with food substitutions while making sure that the nutritional needs of the students are met.

“You have to be very careful when you are amending a menu across the board,” she explained. “You have to be aware of the requirements, and you have to think of allergen requirements. It’s not as simple as substituting broccoli and carrots.”

Cavanaugh and Rothermich complimented the food service staff members on their flexibility during a challenging time.

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

“We haven’t had cases in a couple of weeks now, so we haven’t been having a lot of Test and Stay cases right now,” Cavanaugh said. “But every test takes the nurses about 15 minutes to do.”

At some points, it had taken up to 90 minutes to administer the tests, which led to the principals and assistant principals lending a hand.

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

While the staff is supportive, Cavanaugh joked that there are limits.

“The principals joke that, ‘You’re not going to make me drive the bus,’ ” she said.

To see a complete listing of openings, go to hopkinton.tedk12.com/hire/index.aspx.