Despite Pine View’s relatively successful first three weeks of in-person and online classes, 11 teachers on campus have chosen to take a leave of absence or early retirement due to varying concerns about student and staff safety.
According to Assistant Principal of Curriculum Tricia Allen, teachers can apply for either a medical, partial or full-year leave of absence. If a teacher applies for a full-year absence, the school can hire another full-time teacher to fill in for them.
Unfortunately for Pine View, if teachers apply for a partial leave of absence, a period of 12 weeks, long-term substitute teachers have to fill these positions.
“Some of the last minute leaves of absences were a little bit problematic, as well as the ones held with notice, because even if we posted [positions that need to be filled] a few weeks ago, there’s still a shortage of subs that want to come back and be in the classroom,” Allen said. “Finding substitutes that not only want to come back, but are qualified and have the technology ‘know-how’ has been difficult.”
Before the school year began, the district deadline for applying for a leave of absence was extended until Aug. 24 to accommodate the wavering concerns of teachers.
To adjust to the unfamiliar teaching environment for the school year, teachers were provided an additional week of pre-planning, giving them two weeks to prepare instead of one. During this time, teachers were trained to use platforms for both virtual and in-person students.
Sarasota County Schools has always used the “5-day Count” plan, a state requirement, to address staffing concerns at the start of the year. This year that is even more critical than ever. For the first two weeks of school, Sarasota County schools will report the number of students attending school through both in-person and remote settings. The list of students attending each school is published for teachers to correct absences. At the end of this two-week period, the district will use these numbers to not only determine funding for each school, but to also compare the ratios of students to teachers. Comparing the number of students to teachers allows schools to more accurately discern if there’s a need or an excess of teachers at a particular school. From there, the district can reassign teachers to other schools that have a shortage of trained teachers.
According to school board member Eric Robinson, teacher shortages are not a glaring problem for most public schools in Sarasota County. Robinson’s term ends later this year.
“First of all, the number of absences and early retirement is actually much smaller than we thought it would be. We’re talking, maybe like, 50 teachers, more than there were last year pre-COVID. Out of respect of 5,000 [employees], we’re talking one percent [of teachers leaving],” Robinson said.
According to Allen, the number of teachers who have left Pine View is somewhat higher than other large high schools. Venice, Riverview and Sarasota High School have each lost one or two teachers.
Nevertheless, Allen reaffirms that Pine View’s numbers are strong, and only certain positions must be filled. These positions include Anatomy & Physiology, Social Studies for middle and high school, elementary Technology, Math for middle school, and a middle school English and Social Studies class.
Evidently, the difficult reality that teachers face has forced some to make tough decisions. Former AP Calculus BC teacher David Nezelek almost took a full-year leave of absence, concerned about COVID safety. He filled out the paperwork to take the leave of absence, but changed his mind the same day.
“I went in to have Dr. Covert sign the form. Some of the other administrators were in there, and once he did… The idea that I would not be here — it hit me when he signed it,” Nezelek said.
After careful consideration, Nezelek decided to stay on campus and is now teaching AP Seminar, which has a smaller pool of in-person students. Despite the challenges he faces for switching to a completely different course subject, he felt the need to be on campus because of how deeply he values his students and fellow colleagues.
“I am accustomed to having every moment of every day worked out in my head in advance, because I’ve done it so many times before. And now, it’s all new. To start something this new, this major, after so long of doing the same thing, it’s really hard for me to communicate all of the different emotions I’m feeling,” Nezelek said.
According to Pine View’s new high school Assistant Principal, Kate Marcotte, despite the issues that the Pine View community is experiencing, she has been very impressed with the outpouring of support contributed by students, staff and parents alike.
“Our goal overall is that the kids and the families come back to Pine View and remember that our community is very resilient… as a new person coming in, that’s really great to share,” Marcotte said.