Parents and other community members of the community have stepped up in response to calls for substitute teachers and volunteers for bus and playground duties at schools in Yarmouth, Falmouth and Cumberland-North Yarmouth.

The need for more staffing in the school districts comes amid a surge in the omicron variant of the coronavirus that has left widespread shortages in schools statewide.

Falmouth Schools were at risk of returning to remote learning until members of the community stepped up to work as substitute teachers and take over volunteer positions. Rachel Vitello / The Forecaster

The Yarmouth school district has enlisted 35 new volunteers to assist with daily operations, as well as 33 people willing to substitute after Superintendent Andrew Dolloff wrote a letter to the community on Jan. 8 asking for help to “grow their pool of qualified substitutes and volunteers.” Without more people, he said, the district was at risk of going remote if there were any more staff absences. Seven of those who responded are substitute teachers who reactivated their files and 26 are new to subbing.

“Considering we were down to a handful of subs, this is significant progress and has already made a noticeable difference for our staff, as they are no longer having to cover for colleagues as consistently as they had been to this point in the pandemic,” Dolloff told The Forecaster. Yarmouth has not needed to switch to remote learning so far during this school year.

Falmouth Schools put out a similar call in the Jan. 21 town newsletter and has since registered 10 new substitute teachers and multiple parents  have reached out to volunteer, according to interim Superintendent Gretchen McNulty.  Although Falmouth schools have more unfilled positions this academic year than in the past five, it has not needed to close due to staff shortages.

“We have posted positions right now for building-based substitutes, which essentially is a full-time position within a district because we know that we have a need every day and will through the course of the year,” McNulty said. “Some of our amazing substitutes are only available one or two days a week or a couple weeks a month, so the larger the pool that we have, the greater chance that on any given day we’ll fill a vacant slot.”


“It’s important to express appreciation for the many members of our community who have reached out and offered help in various ways,” McNulty said. “It may not fill all the positions, but it certainly makes the schools feel supported.”

SAD 51, which serves Cumberland and North Yarmouth, is one of three local school systems experiencing a staff shortage because of the pandemic. Rachel Vitello / The Forecaster

SAD 51 has also boosted its ranks of substitute teachers, but the search for additional subs goes on.

SAD 51 Superintendent Jeff Porter said the omicron variant surge is to blame for many staff absences in Cumberland and North Yarmouth schools. The district, which was down about 15% of its staff for the first half of January and is now down about 10% of total staff due to daily illness, continuously puts out notices looking for substitutes, he said. Currently, SAD 51 has four substitute job postings on its website, as well as educational technicians, bus drivers and custodians.

North Yarmouth Academy also said it is “looking to expand our pool of qualified substitute teachers, and like many schools, we have a smaller number of candidates since the start of COVID,” according to Director of Marketing and Communications Kristi Belesca.

There have been about two vacancies for every person hired in the education sector in the U.S. during the 2021-2022 school year so far, according to the National Education Association. The pandemic was also a key factor in one-third to one-half of teacher departures, the association reported. The Maine Department of Education does not keep track of staff absences or remote school days caused by COVID, according to Director of Communications Marcus Mrowka.

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