High School Handles Spanish Vacancies Among Sub Shortages

Due to COVID within the district and other reasons, USD 231 has been facing a substitute shortage, especially within the Spanish department


Kaylah Newman

A student working on a project in class.

Angela Ocanas and Rachel Owens

Along with other districts across the country, USD 231 has struggled with a lack of substitutes since late 2021. With two unfilled Spanish positions adding to the strain, teachers are often found filling in for classes during their planning periods. Principal Frank Bell spoke on the subject, explaining the ways that other teachers have stepped up to the plate.

“If I had to rely on external substitutes, we’d have a major crisis,” Bell said. “We could not even come close to handling the need we have. Because the district has made it where the internal substitutes [current teachers] can work to sub a class during their plan and [with pay that was increased a few weeks ago], that has really, really assisted our efforts to get substitutes. The bad part is we have to bombard the staff with emails asking, ‘Can you cover?’ But a good thing is, [current teachers] do.” 

Ceramics teacher Cindy Kersenbrock is one of the teachers who has stepped up when a position goes unfilled. 

“We do get paid extra when we sub,” Kersenbrock said. “I sub during planning period about once a week. I like to be able to help; I feel bad when I can’t help out, and also if I need to be gone, I feel bad because I know it’s putting someone else out. It’s always a scramble for them to find someone.” 

Qualified substitutes are getting harder and harder to come by in the community and the withdrawal of a planning period can put stress on teachers.  Adding to the school’s sub strain are two unfilled Spanish positions. Spanish teacher Ashley Gorney is currently on leave undergoing cancer treatments, and former GEHS Spanish teacher Conny Gutierrez resigned over winter break. Because of the specialized content, the other two Spanish teachers Katelyn Kellerman and Linda Stringer have provided curriculum and grading help to subs.

“I teach Spanish 1 and Spanish 3,” Stringer said. “It’s a lot of work to teach during my planning period. In this instance because a teacher left, I’m taking up three additional Spanish classes and then there’s two classes where I’m not there physically. It’s hard to write lessons for that class, so I have to modify their lessons. Then I get the Spanish 3 class that I do [teach]. It’s better when you are able to have the students in your classroom instead of in another classroom trying to learn the Spanish you are trying to teach them. It’s stressful and I guess the grading is also an issue because you have more grading to do.”

The foreign language department has had high turnover the past two years. The former department chair and a third Spanish teacher left at the end of last year, along with a French teacher. According to Bell, the resignation over winter break was difficult.

“That’s always very difficult and challenging for the school and in particular the students,” Bell said. “You’d like to think you could post the position up and we’d have all these applicants, the reality is we don’t.”

However, a bit of relief came in the second week of February when Bell was able to secure a bilingual long term sub for the department. Stephanie Steger is connected to GEHS, as she used to be an ELL teacher, then went to Special Education. 

“My major was Spanish in college, so this is a good fit for me,” Steger said. “I have experience teaching Spanish speakers English…I learned Spanish in school and as a middle school student I loved Spanish, so that’s when I started learning the language. I’ll be a long term sub for the rest of the semester. I’m teaching Spanish classes 1, 2, and 3. I’m three classes short of having enough credits in Spanish to teach Spanish, but I will be getting that soon and I am so excited.”

Because substitutes take initiative in Spanish classes, GEHS was able to still keep students enrolled in their desired language class. One of those substitutes was Steven Hall.

“Mrs. Kellerman is the primary person that was helping me and I’ve been here [subbing for Spanish] for three months,” Hall said. “And so for the end of last semester Mrs. Kellerman and Mrs. Gutierrez helped me. Mrs. Gutierrez is not here any longer, but we survived and I enjoyed it.” Hall said.