ABC15 goes on campus to see firsthand how staff shortages impact the school day

Posted at 4:45 PM, Jan 27, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-27 20:31:44-05

PHOENIX — The sun is not up yet over Encanto School in Phoenix, but Principal Felipe Carranza has already been working for hours.

“Today there’s only three (teachers) that are out,” said Carranza. “It pulls people out of their job to cover for classrooms and it’s hard.”

With roughly 30 teachers on campus, three call-outs is a good day. Carranza knows it could be worse.

“When we got back from winter break, we had 16 people out,” said Carranza. “Eight of those people are classroom teachers.”

He often relies on student teachers, interventionists, and special teachers to fill the gaps and avoid splitting classes. However, no one is exempt from jumping in to help.

“I’ve been in the classroom. I was teaching kindergarten last week,” Carranza said. “Teachers are really feeling the stress."

Schools across Arizona are experiencing similar challenges. In fact, Arizona’s largest school staffing agency tells ABC15 the need for substitute teachers has never been higher.

“Just in the last two weeks, we’ve seen records of absences in the school districts that are 40% above the prior COVID record,” said Andy Shirk, CEO and President of Educational Services, Inc. “Where we would see maybe 5,000 absences in a week over a set number of districts, we are seeing 7,000 or 8,000 absences a week.”

Sara Borghaus is Encanto’s “Floating Substitute,” a unique position that is utilized often.

“I’m here every day, I’ve had one day this whole year that I’ve not had a substitute job,” said Borghaus. “I’ve had days where I’ve started in one classroom, and it’s like, ‘oh no we need you here now,’ and I literally pick up my stuff and move to a different classroom.”

The school and the Osborn District are using masks, voluntary pool testing, and other mitigations to try to keep COVID cases down. However, contact tracing is now a permanent part of Carranza’s growing list of responsibilities.

“There’s a lot of students that are testing positive,” he said. “Wednesday morning, the whole Wednesday sometimes, that is all we do, we contact trace, and we call parents.”

Teachers like Maria Garcia say they are staying focused on the present and maximizing every moment in the classroom.

“My priority is making sure they’re good and safe, that they feel loved, and that they are playing and learning at the same time,” said Garcia, who teaches third grade. “We always find a way.”

Resilience, adaptability, and self-care are words you will hear often as Carranza makes the rounds. He, like so many other school leaders across the state, is working daily to stay safe and stay open.

“It does stretch us very thin, however, we have amazing people who understand that we’re here for the kids and our number one priority is the safety, at this moment, their safety and then additionally, instruction,” said Carranza.