Boston schools superintendent becomes substitute teacher as staffing shortages grip district

"Feels like it did my first day of class."

BPS Staffing Problems

With over 1,000 district staffers out, Boston Public Schools Superintendent Brenda Cassellius taught a fourth grade class on Wednesday to cover the shift of at least one of the hundreds of teachers currently away from their classrooms.

Despite the staffing woes, though, Cassellius seemed to be making the most of the experience.

“I couldn’t sleep last night I was so excited to teach,” Cassellius wrote in a tweet. “Feels like it did my first day of class.”

Approximately 1,074 BPS employees called out on Tuesday, including about 450 teachers, schools officials said. The district attributes the absences to a variety of reasons, the latest COVID-19 surge among them.


The numbers were even higher on Wednesday, with 1,100 school employees out, including 658 teachers and 300 paraprofessionals, according to a BPS spokesperson Wednesday afternoon.

Forty-seven buses were also without a driver Wednesday, according to BPS.

Officials were trying to find coverage for the Nathan Hale Elementary School in Roxbury when Cassellius decided to dust off her teaching skills.

“I jumped into gear and said, ‘I’ll clear my calendar and I’ll go over and teach a fourth grade class,'” she told reporters.

Sixty of the system’s central office staffers were deployed to cover core functions in schools in an attempt to keep schools operational and students learning in-person, officials said.

The absences are sizable: Data from late 2019, the most recent available, indicated BPS budgeted a staff of 10,380 for the 2020 school year, meaning roughly 1 in 10 employees was out on Tuesday.

Mayor Michelle Wu, appearing on GBH’s “Greater Boston” that night, said the city is working closely with state officials about the potential to have BPS shift into remote learning, if the situation requires that.

The state is currently requiring all schools to operate in-person to meet instructional hours this school year.

Right now, should a school have to shut down due to staffing shortages, BPS would have to treat it essentially as a snow day and make up the day later on, Wu said.


Asked if BPS is ready to transition to remote learning if necessary, Wu acknowledged the district would have “a significant amount of work to do.”

“We’ve been through this over previous school years, but between the devices (and) the family engagement, there’s a lot of work in changing over,” Wu said.

Cassellius on Wednesday appeared to be covering for fourth grade teacher Johnathan Holden, who, she said, “left excellent plans and he made it so easy.”

“Full class of brilliant, amazing students. So engaged,” Cassellius wrote in another tweet Wednesday morning. “We are working on poetry and fluency. The students are so eager to learn.”

She added a message to Holden: “The kids miss you and say you are the best teacher!!!”

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include Wednesday’s employee absence numbers.


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