SPRING Hill, Kan. — With the start of a new school year just a few days away, one Kansas City-area school district is taking a unique approach to fill a vacant teaching position.
During a special meeting on Aug. 4, the Spring Hill school board voted 6-1 to approve a contract for the district’s first fully remote teaching positon.
The school district has partnered with Elevate K-12, a virtual teaching company, to provide the district with a certified science teacher for the 2023-24 school year. Starting this fall students enrolled in the sophomore level “Integrated Science” course at Spring Hill High School will be taught by a virtual instructor.
“They will do live, virtual instruction and there will also be a classroom coach in the room to help facilitate the learning of our students. This will still give them the opportunity to do those hands-on labs that we think are very important for science instruction at the secondary level,” Director of Teaching and Learning, Dr. Erin Smith said.
The district first began advertising for the science teacher position in October. According to board records, high school science teachers worked to restructure the department by taking additional praxis tests to become licensed to teach higher-level science courses.
The job was listed again in late March as a Biology/Physical Science teacher role in hopes of casting a wider net to fill the position and to have some of the higher level science classes be covered internally.
Superintendent Dr. Link Luttrell said the district had interviewed two candidates for the role, but neither candidate accepted the job. Luttrell said while he would prefer to hire a local teacher to physically be in the classroom with students, this is the best option for now.
“We still feel this is the next best option with the options we have available at this point,” Luttrell said.
Smith said the district couldn’t drop the course, because the class fulfills a science credit required for graduation. She said the school also doesn’t have another class option to enroll students in.
“With 140 students we would not have other classes to put them into throughout the day. We would be over the limits of where kids could go into the other courses, as all of our other classes are full,” Smith said.
Smith said if a contract was not approved, the other option would be to try to hire an emergency substitute.
Hiring an emergency substitute would require the district file a waiver with the Kansas State Department of Education (KSDE) to secure a substitute beyond the standard 25 day limit. However, Smith noted, if the district pursued this option there is no guarantee the substitute would be a certified science teacher.
Ali Seeling, the only board member to vote against the contract, said having a teacher physically present in the classroom would be a better option for students. Seeling also said parents should have been told about the situation sooner.
“Parents know what’s best for their kids and if they wanted their kids in virtual school, we have a fantastic program for that and they would pick that. I do think we are going to hear a lot of pushback,” Seeling said.
Luttrell said the new contract with Elevate would not infringe on current labor agreements with the Spring Hill Education Association.
Smith said the position will remain open and the district will continue interviewing potential candidates to permanently fill the teaching position. If a candidate is hired, Smith said the district would repurpose the contract with Elevate to provide instruction for other courses.
“We are able to repurpose the contract and use it for other courses. That does give us some flexibility then to consider elective classes that we don’t currently offer,” Smith said.
According to the agreement with Elevate, the $94,000 contract could be increased to $107,980 if additional classes are added.