WESTFIELD — Superintendent Stefan Czaporowski had to use a rerun from September for his Dec. 2 Superintendent’s Spotlight on WSKB Radio and Westfield Community Television, after being called in that morning to fill in for staff shortages in the schools.
“We are short-staffed. I’m helping out at the schools today,” Czaporowski said, when asked what happened. He said there were a lot of positive cases at the beginning of last week, and he had to man the COVID room in one school while the students participated in the Test and Stay program for close contacts.
The Test and Stay program is for students and staff considered close contacts of someone who has tested positive for COVID-19, which would normally require a 10-day home quarantine.
If their parents have given permission for Test and Stay, students can take a rapid antigen test (BinaxNOW), which is a nose swab, on each school day from the date of exposure. If the test results remain negative, students may remain at school.
Czaporowski said this week that the central office administration team has been filling in at various levels, both in administration and in the classrooms.
“All of the central office team, there are eight of us, have been out helping out in the buildings, because the COVID and contact protocol has been affecting everyone. The central office team members have been going into the schools to offer some support,” he said.
Czaporowski said he thinks that keeping an adequate staffing level between now and the holiday break will remain challenging. For one, the state Department of Health is no longer contact tracing, but the district still has to, under regulations from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, which he said is consuming “a ton” of nursing time.
“The nurses are doing a lot of the contact tracing, and have really done a fantastic job throughout the pandemic,” he said.
The district also still needs substitute nurses and teachers.
“The [employment] market has become extremely competitive, all of the area districts are short-staffed. We still need paraprofessionals, and some of our teachers are leaving for higher pay in neighboring communities,” Czaporowski said, adding, “We’ve also had staff leave for personal reasons. … It’s been a challenge. As an administrative team we’re filling in where necessary, and we’re happy to do that to support our staff and students at the schools.”
The district’s transportation director, Pamela Kotarski, also reported to the School Committee at a recent meeting that there has been a shortage of bus drivers, with the owners of Lecrenski Brothers having to fill in themselves as drivers.
“There is a possibility of not having enough bus drivers,” Czaporowski said.
He said due to all of these circumstances there is also the possibility that the district might have to close a school and make that day up. That hasn’t happened in Westfield yet, but it has happened in other districts.
“If the case numbers keep rising like they are, not just in the schools but in the city, it’s likely that it’s going to happen at some point,” he said.
Beginning in October, the district started posting weekly positive COVID numbers by school for the prior week every Monday. These posts may be found at www.schoolsofwestfield.org, under 2021-22 COVID Information, Weekly COVID Case Counts.