Curriculum & Policy Committee on Monday afternoon.

The sometimes desperate search for substitute teachers in Evanston/Skokie School District 65 has become far more orderly, and far less of a crisis.

Assistant Superintendent Adalib Khelgati told a Board of Education committee Monday night that the district has now achieved a 90% fill rate for subs, or “guest educators,” as District 65 now calls them.

There had been times in recent years, even before COVID-19, that the fill rate was only about 65%, forcing administrators or other educators to take over a classroom when the teacher called in sick.

That “put strain on the entire building,” said board member Biz Lindsay-Ryan, with employees shifting around to cover vacancies.

Two things have helped reduce that — money, and a new system.

This school year, District 65 raised the daily substitute teacher pay from $115 to $150.

Plus, the school system is now hiring “guest educators” directly, rather than through a contract agency.

Bringing the sub hiring in-house was “a risky step,” Lindsay-Ryan said, but one that appears to be paying off.

The district is saving $1.5 million per year, plus, Khelgati noted, “for the first time, we’re filling our special education substitute slots.”

“For years,” he said, “those were rarely filled.”

Special ed subs are particularly hard to find.

There was some negative staffing news, however, regarding early childhood education.

Assistant Superintendent Romy DeCristofaro said a recent state audit found that for district’s family center, which cares for children ages 0-3 years, “we have one of the lowest salaries in the state.”

DeCristofaro noted that a recently improved union contract makes family center wages more competitive, which should help in both attracting and retaining staff.

This was the first public board session for Superintendent Devon Horton after it was revealed that he is the sole finalist for the superintendency for the DeKalb County, Georgia schools.

The DeKalb school board has not voted on Horton’s hiring, but that could come this week.

At the District 65 panel, it was business as usual for Horton, who made no reference to his upcoming job change.

It was jokingly referenced, sort of, by Lindsay-Ryan.

Horton announced that the district’s communications manager, Melissa Messinger, had just been nominated for “distinguished communicator of the year” in Illinois.

Lindsay-Ryan turned to the soon-to-be-departing superintendent, and with a laugh, said “you need to take better care of your board. I thought you were going to announce that Melissa won an award and is taking a job somewhere else.”

“Congratulations,” Lindsay-Ryan said to Messinger. “I’m glad you’re going to stay.”

Jeff Hirsh joined the Evanston Now reporting team in 2020 after a 40-year award-winning career as a broadcast journalist in Cincinnati, Ohio.

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