Rethinking Elementary Staffing to Create Flexible Options for All Students | Devin Vodicka | 8 Min Read

Conversations with school leaders continue to be focused on emerging options for schooling.  While many started the year in full-virtual mode, plans continue to be developed to shift to hybrid with an intention to get back to full-in-person at some point in the future.  At this stage very few educators would say that we have hit our stride and it is clear that shifting into different modes on a rolling basis is stretching the limits of our current systems and structures.  While we see some innovative models, such as the approach in Indianapolis that includes collaboration with childcare providers, staffing remains one of the main constraints in many communities.  As a result, we have been exploring options to address this question: how might we rethink staffing to create flexible options for all students? 

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This post will focus on staffing at the elementary level.  In some ways, the conventional approach to elementary teacher staffing is relatively simple and straightforward.  In California, for example, transitional kindergarten through third grade classes are capped at 25 students per teacher and 4th-5th grade classes are typically in the range of 32 students per teacher.  Regardless of the specific ratios, anytime we look to create flexible models we end up with more options when we have a reduced ratio of students to teachers.  Unfortunately, at the moment it is extremely unlikely that schools will have the opportunity to add full-time teaching positions.  In addition to the fact that we are in an economic crisis where financial resources are limited, attracting and retaining qualified teachers is a significant challenge.  Therefore we are compelled to work within existing staffing formulas and must reframe how to reorganize the teachers that we already have. 

In addition, while I have advocated for a shift away from “seat time” requirements, we continue to operate within systems where time is the fundamental driver for our funding and there are formal (i.e., collective bargaining agreements) and informal (i.e., family and community expectations based on past practices) influences that make it very difficult for us to expand beyond what is typically a six-hour instructional day at elementary schools.  For the purposes of this post, we will therefore…

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Devin Vodicka

Devin Vodicka is the CEO of Learner-Centered Collaborative and the author of Learner-Centered Leadership. He is also three-time California superintendent of the year (2016 AASA, 2015 ACSA, 2015 Pepperdine), Innovative Superintendent of the Year (2014 Classroom of the Future Foundation), and nine-time White House invitee, both in recognition for district-wide achievement, and to advise and partner with the U.S. Department of Education’s office of Educational Technology and Digital Promise League of Innovative Schools.