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North country administrators, educators talk national teacher shortage, COVID and upcoming school year

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WATERTOWN — With COVID-19 related restrictions and regulations having been further relaxed for the start of the 2022-23 school year next week, there is much hope for finding a “new normal.” But a shortage of teachers and other staff necessary for school districts to operate properly has been affecting schools across the nation.

The north country has not been immune to the shortage, as many districts are dealing with increasingly smaller pools of applicants and often competing with one another for recruits, and there are still dozens of positions open across the region — from superintendents and principals to bus drivers and substitute teachers. The first day of school for most districts is Tuesday.

Districts in the north country have gotten creative with their responses to the shortages and have remained committed to providing their students with the many classes and programs they offer.

According to Jefferson-Lewis BOCES District Superintendent Stephen J. Todd, he and his colleagues have been talking for the last several years about how they’ve seen a small pool of available teachers and educators coming out of teacher prep programs.

“It’s not really pandemic related and what we’re seeing this year is not dramatically different from what we saw last year, the year before or the year before that, even though the overall hiring market nationwide is even tighter,” Mr. Todd said. “I hear this from my colleagues outside of education as well, what my industry friends are saying mirrors what we’re seeing that the workforce is, as we know it, just much smaller than the demand for employees right now in every field.”

He noted that it is hard to find teachers of all kinds, but especially those in specialized areas like particular sciences or foreign languages. The market is also tighter for teaching assistants, aides and substitute teachers, as well as bus drivers. The Board of Cooperative Educational Services hires teachers of particular trades and Mr. Todd said he was happy to report that they have had good success this year filling some hard-to-fill teaching positions for electrical wiring and heavy equipment classes.

He also helps out when districts need help finding high-level administrators like superintendents, and is currently assisting with searches for superintendents for the Watertown City School District and General Brown Central School District. He noted that superintendent searches used to bring in around 25 to 30 applicants, and this was true statewide. Then it became 15, then 10. And then it became single digits.

“That’s true, I think, across the labor market, but there are still good people out there, we’re still hiring excellent people,” Mr. Todd said.

COVID-19 led teachers to modify their approaches to teaching, become adept at virtual learning and collaboration, use new technology, narrow curricula to the essentials, and assess students in different ways in order to continue to offer students meaningful learning experiences. They overcame this unprecedented time by doing what they do best: supporting, encouraging and educating.

Even before the pandemic, teachers were leaving their positions or the profession entirely for various reasons, including low pay and a lack of societal support.

“When we first shut down, people really realized how much teachers do and were thankful, but that was very short lived,” said Nadine C. Britton, living environment teacher at Sackets Harbor Central School. “I think that the general public has a difficult time understanding what a teacher’s day really looks like and without that vision, our job is thought to be extremely easy. I think that due to all of that, the lack of support that teachers feel is why we have a shortage right now.”

Mrs. Britton, who is now in her 23rd year of teaching and second with the district, noted that it needs to be understood that teachers are educated people with advanced degrees who have families and bills, and that a living wage and general support are the only way the teaching profession will become marketable again.

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Watertown residents respond to lift of state’s mask-or-vax rule

in Health/Local Business/Local News 547 views

WATERTOWN — Whether they are pro-mask or not, people seem ready to leave the decision to require masks be worn in public up to individuals and not the state.

A half-dozen people interviewed at random in Watertown on Wednesday, shortly after Gov. Kathleen C. Hochul announced that the requirement to enter a business with a mask or proof of COVID-19 vaccination would be lifted on Thursday, said they’ve always understood why wearing masks is important.

They all said they have taken COVID-19 seriously and have taken precautions like masking and getting vaccinated. Still, most felt the requirement was a driver of tension, and that it’s time to leave it up to the bar owner, hardware store or gas station — and they would respect what the sign on the door says with or without a state requirement.

“If you feel comfortable wearing one then wear it,” said Ron DaLuke, a Watertown resident. “I’ll wear mine if I remember it. As far as it being enforced, that’s a pretty tough deal to say ‘You have to wear this.’”

He said he understands that wearing a mask protects others, but now is not the right time to get combative with those who don’t wear masks.

“Are you going to walk into the store and because a person there isn’t wearing a mask, are you going to go over there and punch them?” he said. “No, you wear your mask, keep your distance and just go about your business.”

Amanda Fuller, a lifelong Watertown resident, is sick of the masks, but she has a child whose immune system is compromised.

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These ZIP Codes, Counties in New York Have Highest COVID Rates

in Health 391 views

Health officials are worried about 22 counties and 117 zip codes across the Hudson Valley and New York State where COVID rates are high and vaccination is low.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is concerned COVID is spreading across New York State but adds his staff has pinpointed 117 ZIP codes across New York where COVID is spreading more rapidly.

In these 117 ZIP codes, new positives per capita are above the statewide average and the vaccination rate is below the statewide average, according to Cuomo.

Continue Reading on Hudson Valley Post

School districts hoping for updated state COVID guidance ahead of new school year

in School 283 views

WATERTOWN — While the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has given updated mask guidance this week, and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has said school districts should prepare to take aggressive action as virus cases rise across the state and country, school districts continue to wait for updated state guidance ahead of the new school year.

The CDC recommended Tuesday that some people vaccinated against COVID-19 resume wearing face masks indoors in areas of “high” or “substantial” transmission of COVID-19.

All students, staff and visitors to K-12 schools should wear masks when students resume in-person learning in the fall, regardless of vaccination status, the CDC said, though it’s unclear still if New York state will change its mask mandates.

Gov. Cuomo has said the state is reviewing the CDC’s new recommendations closely in consultation with federal and state health experts.

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COVID cases surge 51% in NY and rose in most counties last week. Check our map.

in Health 466 views

ALBANY – New York’s COVID-19 positivity rate continues to rise as the virus’ spread stubbornly persists across the state and the nation, jumping from a mere 0.4% a month ago to 2.2% on Sunday.

It’s meant that COVID cases in New York, still relatively small compared to last winter, are heading in the wrong direction as health officials raise growing concerns that coronavirus is far from being eradicated.

In New York, new COVID cases leaped 51% in the week ending Sunday, rising to 9,352 cases.

In fact, New York had nearly 2,000 new COVID cases on Sunday for the first time since mid-May, state records show, in part as the Delta variant continues to grow.

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Yates County reports no new COVID-19 cases; New York cases surge 65.9%

in Health 452 views

New coronavirus cases leaped in New York in the week ending Sunday, rising 65.9% as 3,970 cases were reported. The previous week had 2,393 new cases of the virus that causes COVID-19.

New York ranked 33rd among the states where coronavirus was spreading the fastest on a per-person basis, a USA TODAY Network analysis of Johns Hopkins University data shows. In the latest week coronavirus cases in the United States increased 47.5% from the week before, with 136,187 cases reported. With 5.84% of the country’s population, New York had 2.92% of the country’s cases in the last week. Across the country, 43 states had more cases in the latest week than they did in the week before.

Many places did not report cases and deaths around the Fourth of July, which would shift those cases into the following week and make week-to-week comparisons inaccurate.

Yates County reported zero cases and zero deaths in the latest week. A week earlier, it had reported zero cases and zero deaths. Throughout the pandemic it has reported 1,180 cases and 26 deaths.

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