Phoenix Union superintendent: All hands on deck to keep in-person learning amid staff shortage

Jan 14, 2022, 4:35 AM | Updated: 10:43 am
(Facebook Photo/Phoenix Union High School District)...
(Facebook Photo/Phoenix Union High School District)
(Facebook Photo/Phoenix Union High School District)

PHOENIX — A labor crisis compounded by the spread of the COVID-19 omicron variant is proving a tough task to keep in-person learning going at the Phoenix Union High School District, Superintendent Chad Gestson said Thursday.

“Even before COVID, we were facing a labor crisis and today with omicron it’s been tougher than ever,” Gestson told KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Gaydos and Chad. “We are fortunate here, we have nearly 4,000 employees and they agree we should do everything we can to stay in school and in-person learning but it’s requiring literally all hands on deck.”

Gestson said administrators and classified employees who are certified to teach are substituting in classrooms to help cover the shortage.

“Anybody that can get into classrooms to help us keep schools open is stepping up but I can tell you it gets tougher every day.”

The district has yet to revert to online learning this school year. Throughout the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, spread of the virus caused schools to shutter. This time, Gestson said there’s nearly unanimous support among staff that it’s not about the spread of COVID-19 but rather staff shortages that could send students back home.

Executive staff and principals of the district’s 22 schools have said a 20-25% employee absence rate may cause a school to close, according to Gestson.

“We can still keep school open with mitigation strategies if we have enough staff,” Gestson said, saying the district is aware of the high transmission of the virus in the communities it serves.

“At some point, the question becomes do you put 200 kids in an auditorium just to keep school open or do you move to remote learning and focus on learning quality. That’s the crossroads and the challenging decision we have right now.”

He said the district has procedures in place to help aid the situation, including running vaccine events and expanding testing opportunities at the schools, requiring masks indoors and limiting large gatherings.

“Trying to be smart and have one major focus and that’s keep our people healthy and keep in-person learning if possible.”

Arizona may reach its omicron peak in the next couple of weeks with a potentially steep decline in cases soon after like what has been seen in other states and countries.

Gestson said the district is hopeful they can keep up the sprint for the next two to three weeks.

“It’s virtually unbearable when administrators are subbing all day and working all night, and likewise for employees,” he said. “Educators are tired, they were tired before we came back this semester. They are tired today.”

We want to hear from you.

Have a story idea or tip? Pass it along to the KTAR News team here.

Arizona News

Hilda McGready...

Silver Alert cancelled for 85-year-old woman who drove off from Arrowhead Mall in Glendale

A Silver Alert was cancelled Sunday for an 85-year-old woman with dementia who drove off from the Arrowhead Mall in Glendale, authorities said.
22 hours ago
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 19: Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) walks to her office in the basement of the ...

Weekend wrap-up: Here are the biggest Arizona stories from Jan. 21-23

Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema being censured by the state’s Democratic party is among the biggest Arizona stories of the weekend.
22 hours ago
Barry Markson (Twitter photo/BarryMarkson1)...
Mike O'Neil/The Think Tank

Think Tank talks with practicing attorney and KTAR host Barry Markson

Practicing attorney and sometimes KTAR News 92.3 FM host Barry Markson joins this week's Think Tank to discuss his take on Biden’s recent speech and other topics.
22 hours ago
(Pexels Photo)...
Wills Rice

Storm brings rain, strong wind gusts to metro Phoenix Saturday night

A storm rolled through metro Phoenix Saturday night, bringing rain and wind across the Valley.
22 hours ago
A Valley Metro Rail train drives through downtown on March 26, 2020 in Phoenix, Arizona. Despite fe...

Phoenix receives $920K for 5-mile streetcar route development in Mesa

The city of Mesa on Friday received a $920,000 grant to manage the planning of a 5-mile streetcar route that would connect four activity centers within the municipality.
22 hours ago
(Phoenix Police Department Photo)...

Phoenix police seek public’s help in identifying suspects who shot 2 teens in December

The Phoenix Police Department is seeking the public's assistance in identifying three suspects who shot two 15-year-old teens in December.
22 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

HVAC upkeep in Arizona saves money, keeps families prepared in the long run

Does your air conditioner make weird noises or a burning smell when it starts? If so, you may be due for an AC unit replacement.
Sanderson Ford

Sanderson Ford offers cars and deals for all this holiday season

Sanderson Ford’s No! Vember Black Friday sale is giving an opportunity to purchase a new 2021 vehicle just in time for the holiday season.

How your family can explore the Musical Instrument Museum

Whether you want to spend a day with family, do crafts with kids at home, or have an adult night out, the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix has options. As the world’s only global musical instrument museum, MIM offers interactive and immersive exhibits to foster an appreciation of different cultures and their instruments. “A visit […]
Phoenix Union superintendent: All hands on deck to keep in-person learning amid staff shortage