by Barb Pert Templeton
All schools will be closed on Dec. 10
In an effort to stem ongoing health risks related to the pandemic and staff shortages the Port Huron Board of Education, at the suggestion of Superintendent Theo Kerhoulas, agreed to a district wide ‘Mental Health’ day off on December 10.
In a brief statement posted to the district website last week Kerhoulas said the decision stemmed from recent meetings he’s been having with staff and students at buildings across the district.
“I am proud of how resilient our students and staff are but also know they need relief,” Kerhoulas’ statement read. “All schools and the Central Office will be closed. Please use this day to rest, get caught up, spend time with your families and practice some well-deserved self-care.”
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A board of education meeting on Nov. 15 had Kerhoulas explaining how the idea was formed after he began taking part in a new program called Superintendent’s Voice. The program takes him and a board member on visits to buildings around the district where they meet some staff members to ask how things are going and how they can improve things.
Kerhoulas told the board that so far, he’s completed 25 of 32 planned meetings while also thanking his staff at central offices for holding down the fort there while he’s out.
“It’s such an important thing we’re doing hearing from the trenches, not only our staff but we meet with student leaders after and hear the same questions from them,” Kerhoulas said. “It’s such an insightful process and we aren’t done yet.”
In fact, they are taking action already and implementing some things from common trends being shared by the staff and students. He said it quickly became clear that they need to support their buildings more in regards to issues related to the pandemic.
Along those lines, Kerhoulas said secondary schools needed help in hallways so they will hire some hallway monitors who will also keep an eye on restrooms to address behavior issues.
For staff, they have lost their prep times due to lack of substitutes including many who haven’t had any prep hours since the beginning of the year.
“We want our families to know what’s happening on Dec. 10 and we need a chance for our staff to catchup and we need a chance for our kids to spend some family time together,” Kerhoulas said.
He told the board the need to come up with a substitute strategy is something they also heard loud and clear from the staff in the district. It prompted his office to send out a survey to all substitute teachers in the area to find out how Port Huron can be their first choice when it comes to working for districts in the area.
Kerhoulas said the new plan is pay the substitutes for working through the teacher’s prep hour. Essentially, they were working the hour anyway but paying them for it will make the district rate equal to or higher than sub pay in the area.
In addition, the district will offer a paid professional development day for substitutes on Dec. 29 to bring substitutes up to speed on technology skills plus behavioral and instructional strategies.
“Our substitutes asked for that in the survey and they said ‘you know we’d really like to be able to do some of the things the students are used to in the classroom’ and that takes some training,” Kerhoulas said.
Board Treasurer Joseph Bixler asked what the rate is for paying district substitutes now. He was told there are several different rates, the normal daily rate is $90 plus now $15 for the paid prep hour so it will be $105, per day.
Bixler wondered if that rate was standard across the county. Kerhoulas said not the entire county, he actually looks at school districts that touch them, not necessarily those within the county boundaries. He said they also direct thing to those substitutes who live in the area. In any, case Kerhoulas said the new pay rate was equal to or higher than those in surrounding districts.
The board was also informed that the long-term substitutes, for a teacher that’s out for a while, get $150 a day.
When asked if the administrative team is convinced the district is paying their substitutes enough, Kerhoulas said whey will find out soon.
The survey the district sent to substitutes had responses that clearly stated pay rates were important and that respect needed to be show for those working through their prep hours. Recent changes addressed both of those concerns, Kerhoulas said.