WEST HARTFORD — West Hartford Public Schools has seen more mid-year retirements and higher numbers of interim teachers working within the district this school year, according to a human resources official.
Seven teachers retired in the middle of the school year, and eight more retirements are expected at the close of the academic year — a figure that could rise before the year is through, said Rick Ledwith, the town and school system’s human resources executive director, last week.
There’s typically “one or two mid-year retirements,” Ledwith said during a February Board of Education meeting, making the current count “very very unusual.” He added the change in mid-year retirements was due to the pandemic.
In terms of the reasoning behind those departures, Ledwith said last week that “the majority were COVID-related concerns about teaching in this type of environment,” which included concerns about in-person teaching.
“Our teachers have dealt with a lot of stress this year, as teachers across the country have, teaching in a pandemic,” Ledwith said. “So they were eligible, they had their years, they reached normal retirement age and decided it would be time.”
Those retiring mid-year hadn’t requested remote work, Ledwith said. Going all-remote was an option first extended to people with underlying conditions from the start of the school year.
Theresa McKeown, West Hartford Education Association president, said she was surprised by the number of mid-year retirements.
“It doesn’t surprise me that it could be COVID-related,” she said. “The district is doing everything that it can possibly do, but again, it’s a personal decision.” She noted at least one had been planned last year.
Interim teachers — teachers who are brought in to work between 40 days and the whole academic year — have also seen an increase this year. There have been 47 this school year so far, as compared to 20 in the prior academic year, Ledwith said at the Feb. 2 meeting.
With 1,300 students using a remote schooling option in this district this school year, Ledwith said this meant some teachers moved to teaching within the remote schools, which left spots for interim teachers to fill in the classroom.
Ledwith said this school year has marked the greatest numbers of interim teachers or long-term substitute teachers “by far.” Interim teachers are different from long-term substitutes, which Ledwith said would work between 20 to 40 days.
In the event of quarantines, substitutes would be pulled in, he said.
Amid the pandemic and the quarantines that come with it, Ledwith said staffing has “been a challenge all year long.”
Per the school system’s COVID-19 tracker, as of Wednesday morning, there are seven “positive confirmed cases” and 66 people quarantining across the district’s schools.
Last week, Ledwith said staff quarantine numbers are lower now than they were during “holiday surges.” He has had to rely upon substitutes to make sure all classrooms were staffed.
“But it was not without a lot of hard work on behalf of our administrators and teachers and everybody working hard to ensure that we met the needs of all of our kids every single day,” he said. “... It was a challenge. Has been, and will continue to be. And we’ll get through it.”