Cheney Free Press -

Staff Reporter 

Combatting staff shortages in Medical Lake schools

School district officials tasked with trying to fill shrinking substitute pool


December 7, 2017

Appropriately, a recent workshop for future substitute teachers in Medical Lake was termed a “boot camp.”

That’s because the district continues to fight a battle to fill an ever-decreasing pool of people to fill in for regular classroom teachers who are either away ill, at classes or absent for any number of other reasons.

“Was it our original, unique idea, no,” Kim Headrick, director of teaching and learning said. Officials had heard of others, West Valley in Spokane Valley for instance, who offered the program that sought to accomplish a number of things.

The class had three focal points:

• Get to know the district.

• Learn the sound discipline program.

• Teaching classroom management skills.

It also offered resources, Headrick said, explaining that there is a shortage of people entering the teaching field. It has forced districts to make some concessions they have not previously had to do.

A message that Headrick shared was pretty eye opening.

“Over the course of a kindergarten through 12th grade education, the average student will spend an entire year with a substitute teacher leading their education,” Headrick said. Between sickness, professional learning and teacher leave that’s just 13 days a year with a sub.

“That was our lens in which we recognized that you’re a part of our team and you’re a critical resource in the education of the students our community,” she added.

So the effort has been ratcheted up to have better people in the classroom.

It used to be before the teacher shortage that all substitutes were certificated. “That simply is not the case,” Headrick said.

As the state has provided additional funding for K-3 class size reduction to a 17 to 1 ratio, it has siphoned off the pool of certificated personnel. To fill the need the state now offers emergency certification for those holding bachelors degrees to be able to work in a classroom environment.

Officially called “Substitute Orientation,” Headrick said, the event drew an equal number of certificated and “emergency certs.”

“Of the certificated folks, we had a couple who were brand new, we had some who had been retired and are returning and some who had been certificated and had been out of the field and have come back,” Headrick explained.

What’s driving the shortage?

The biggest factor is the cost of an education, the accompanying debt and choosing to enter a profession that has arguably low pay. “To pay off school loans on a teacher’s salary in difficult,” Headrick said, unless they come from a state school.

Teaching is also a very complex task, she said. The more research that is done helps those in decision-making capacities better understand that.

“There’s just no way that teaching is a 10-month job any more,” Headrick said. “The impression that you have three months off (in the summer) just doesn’t exist.”

The district’s sales pitch, besides earning a $105 per day salary is, they hope to eventually hire from their substitute pool. Recently, a special education slot that unexpectedly opened was filled by a properly certificated sub. Also, those in the sub pool can qualify for long-term jobs, positions that can lead to a contract.

Medical Lake is currently actively recruiting people for the list from the community, including Fairchild Air Force Base. Those interested in more information can contact the district office at (509) 565-3100.

Paul Delaney can be reached at


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