Hoyler Eagle Ridge 1

Broad Run School Board member Andrew Hoyler stands at a window in a classroom at Eagle Ridge Middle School in Ashburn on Tuesday, Nov. 23. Hoyler said he spent the day volunteering as a substitute teacher to assist with staffing shortages.

Loudoun County School Board member Andrew Hoyler (Broad Run) walked out of Eagle Ridge Middle School early last week, having just completed a day volunteering as a substitute teacher. He worked with sixth, seventh and eighth graders that day, stepping in for instructors in coding and other technical courses.

“We are so short on [substitute teachers] that the classes have to be filled by someone,” Hoyler told the Times-Mirror in an interview. He said when a colleague is absent, teachers are “forced to give up their planning period” and be a substitute, he said. While teachers are compensated for filling in as a substitute, “99 out of 100 teachers would rather have their planning period.”

The youngest member of the school board began volunteering as a substitute teacher at Broad Run High School — and, more recently, Eagle Ridge — to, in his words, “try to take the strain off of some of these teachers and some of these schools who were just chronically short” on substitutes, he said.

As Hoyler walked through one wing of Eagle Ridge with his younger brother, who now attends school there, he paused outside a classroom and said, “I think I had [this teacher]” when he was a student at the middle school.

During a school board meeting on Oct. 26, board members reviewed an information item that proposed instituting a “loyalty” pay rate of $133.37 per day — up from a standard rate of $112.75 per day — for substitute teachers who worked 26 days or more during an academic year.

Loudoun County Public Schools superintendent Scott Ziegler said the school district has some 4,000 substitute teachers on its rolls, but only about 500 of whom are actively taking teaching assignments.

LCPS did not respond to a request for more current estimates on the school system’s substitute teaching ranks days before press time.

The shortage of substitutes, however, is not unique to Loudoun County.

Nationwide, 77% of school principals and district leaders have reported difficulties in hiring enough substitute teachers, according to an October survey by Education Week.

Neighboring Frederick County, Maryland, reported having about 60 long-term substitute teaching positions unfilled in its school district as of Nov. 15. The school district’s communications manager, Brandon Oland, described that deficit as comprising “a pretty big number” in an interview with the Times-Mirror.

Hoyler said he felt compelled to volunteer his time substitute teaching at Broad Run due to its increased demand for substitutes. “It’s something that I’m doing completely for free on my own time,” he said, citing a portion of Virginia Code that bars school division employees from also serving on the school board. Hoyler added that he doesn’t obtain any benefit from the volunteer work other than “happiness from giving back to the community.”

His stints as a substitute, he said, have helped him better understand various student concerns at the classroom level, including the quality of school lunches, WiFi connectivity and school safety issues.

He recalled buying a school lunch one Friday when he was volunteering at Broad Run, and said “I could not even finish it.”

“Some of the students saw the faces I made while I was biting into what I think was supposed to be a French fry.” He said he imagined students saying, “‘Oh, see what we what we have every single day.’”

Hoyler said that given how technology-focused classrooms have become in recent years, “even a small disruption to the WiFi can be very detrimental. I witnessed that firsthand when the video that the teacher I was subbing for … wouldn’t load because the WiFi was too laggy.”

Students also raised concerns about parts of the school at Broad Run where public announcement systems weren’t working, according to Hoyler.

“They were afraid that if there was an issue like a lockdown, if they were in that part of the building,” students would be unaware of what was going on, he said.

Broad Run principal David Spage, reached Tuesday, did not immediately respond to questions about the school’s PA systems.

Hoyler said one possible way to mitigate the substitute teacher shortage would be to make the application process easier, especially for career teachers who have retired and want to be able to contribute a few substitute teaching shifts per week.

“I know one of my former teachers recently retired a couple months ago and wanted to become a substitute,” he said. “And [administrators] were trying to require all sorts of documentation that … my teacher didn’t have, such as high school transcripts from decades ago.”

“I don’t feel that the process needs to be the same for everyone,” Hoyler said. “But we need to recognize that people are coming in with different levels of experience and backgrounds. And if we can try to have a [hiring] process that meets the needs of a couple different groups, I think that will speed it up quite a bit.”

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