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Fraser-Cascade school district seeks uncertified special ed assistants, on-call teachers to bolster educational labour pool

Hiring uncertified personnel common in widespread labour shortages, superintendent said
Fraser-Cascade School District 78 is seeking uncertified special ed assistants for Kent Elementary and uncertified teachers teaching on call district-wide. This can be a common strategy for school districts when facing labour shortages. (Graphic/ SD78)

Administrators at Fraser-Cascade School District 78 are taking preventative measures as the nationwide labour crisis continues.

The school district recently posted a job opening for uncertified special education assistants at Kent Elementary School and uncertified teachers teaching on call (UTTOCs) throughout the district. While on its surface it may look similar to the recent job listing at the Chilliwack School District for uncertified teachers in hopes of solving a shortage, SD78 seeking uncertified assistants is a preventative measure.

SD78 superintendent Balan Moorthy said that while a complex labour crisis has a firm grip on Canada and the United States, staffing at Fraser-Cascade has been relatively stable.

RELATED: Acute teacher shortage prompts Chilliwack School District to hire uncertified teachers

“We’re fortunate in Fraser-Cascade because we are staffed really well,” Superintendent Balan Moorthy told The Observer. “Part of that, I believe, is because of the relationships within the district and a really robust collective agreement that supports our teachers.”

He said from his experience in working in two very large districts prior to coming to SD78, the language of the collective agreement and protection of educators’ rights are handled more strongly in Fraser-Cascade than many other districts.

Moorthy partially attributes the district’s staff retention success to the growth of the inclusive education program. Inclusive education means striving for quality education for students of all backgrounds and abilities. Inclusion B.C. states that one of several benefits of inclusive education is “fostering a school culture of respect and belonging,” which is beneficial to student, teachers and staff alike.

“We have a district coordinator for inclusive education that was not in place (before). We have increased our mental health support within schools in terms of youth care workers and childcare counseling,” Moorthy said. “What happened is we created more of a global look at inclusive education that has brought a lot of staff and a lot more equity between the east side and the west side of the district.”

Fraser Cascade Teacher’s Association (FCTA) president Lynne Marvell said the hiring of UTTOCs is the direct result of teacher shortages across the province, which she attributed in part to deteriorating working conditions. She cites larger class sizes, an increase in learning difficulties and a lack of support for individual students or small groups who need extra help as factors contributing to the shortage.

“We all need to feel like our job is doable. Teachers are no different,” she told The Observer. “Teaching should mean being able to make a difference in students’ lives. Let’s let them make that difference.”

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Moorthy said the hiring of uncertified teachers and other staff is not unprecedented, particularly among the northern and more rural districts but also in the more metropolitan areas as well. This fall marked the first time that the Chilliwack District or any Lower Mainland school district called for uncertified teachers to fill teachers on call (TOCs) positions.

SD33 superintendent Rohan Arul-pragasam said the Chilliwack district continues to “work to recruit and hire certified teachers aggressively.” He added any uncertified TOCs hired by the district must attend a district-mandated training program, including job shadowing with a certified teacher.

The Langley School District (SD35) also recently called for UTTOCs.

Moorthy acknowledged there are are still frustrations among teachers in SD78, but weekly meetings and a collaborative relationship with the FCTA helps address any issues.

“When we do find out there are situations where people are frustrated, we have to get in there and we have to have a conversation,” Moorthy said. “It’s always about not shying away from the difficult conversations and talking with staff that have concerns about any particular issues.”

While the success of building a talented pool of educators does not mean the district won’t be vulnerable to shortages down the line, Moorthy said SD78 started off the school year in a better position than some of the larger, metropolitan districts in the Lower Mainland.

– With files from Paul Henderson and Heather Colpitts