Problem: When a Syracuse (N.Y.) City School District faculty member was going to be absent, he or she would call the principal and start a chain reaction. The principal would then call the superintendent's office and two office staffers would spend four hours a day finding substitutes.
Solution: Using Sub-IT software, from central xchange, the district has reduced the number of people involved in finding subs and cut in half the amount of time the office staff has to be directly involved.
Director of Personnel Randolph Williams explains that instead of calling their principal, absent staff members now call an automated system using a unique ID and password. The system can process "about 200 calls per minute," as opposed to the manual calls the staff had to make. Faculty members can schedule their absence, indicate a preferred substitute, and even enter lesson plans to ensure class time is not wasted. The office staff only gets involved to troubleshoot and maintain the system.
Even with all the saved time and labor, the district hasn't had to compromise on sub quality, because it was able to keep its current pool. Williams explains the district uses a combination of full-time certified subs who are paid a salary, daily subs who are either certified or obtaining certification, and teachers already in the school where the absence is occurring. Central xchange was able to adapt the system to follow that call preference hierarchy. Teachers and principals are able to add another layer of filtering for which sub to call first, and the subs can also specify times and locations they prefer to work. Another attraction is that central xchange is building its own pool of qualified subs the district will be able to call on if its own roster is exhausted. The cost for the service is structured as a subscription based on the number of teachers in the district, which for Syracuse is about $30 per teacher annually.
Up and running
The district launched Sub-IT in September 2005. Williams says there were a few kinks to work out, such as learning the importance of keeping the data on the subs up-to-date so inactive subs weren't called. Although maintaining the data is the responsibility of the school district, the initial data entry can be done by electronically importing the information into the software. School are provided with an "on boarding" kit that defines all required data, such as subjects, grades, building locations, school start and stop times, holidays, and contact times for the subs. Nothing is installed at the school, rather the software runs on a group of redundant IBM Netfinity 5600 servers located in a secure facility serviced by an uninterrupted power supply, with access to multiple phone and Internet lines from multiple vendors. With data entry and training, it is usually between two to four weeks before a district is up and running.
Of course, the teachers resisted losing the human touch, but Williams says now that they are used to the new system, they can see it makes their lives easier. In fact, the district has seen a slight increase in the number of absences this year, which Williams attributes to the ease of calling a machine instead of a principal. The system can generate a number of reports broken down by types of absences, days, if there is a connection to staff development days, etc. Principals receive daily faxes showing attendance in their school, and the district is defining an initiative to follow up on absences. Williams says the software "won't solve absentee problems," but provides useful data to address the matter.
"Our primary focus was to get more available subs on a faster basis," Williams concludes.
Ann McClure is associate editor.