Jeffrey Baker: Substitute coordinator, BASD
When Jeffrey Baker thanks a substitute for filling an opening at Bellefonte Area School District, it’s not something he just says for the sake of saying it. The district’s substitute coordinator said it’s something that genuinely comes from the heart. After all, it’s often because of those subs that allow the district to continue with various services when its usual employees are unable to work.
However, the pandemic has posed some challenges that Baker said he does his best to work through.
“It hit us in our recruiting numbers,” he said. “Before, we didn’t have as great of an emphasis on recruiting – people would seek us out. Though there are positions, people aren’t applying like we saw in the past. Outside of that, I lost a lot of substitutes.”
Several individuals who once substituted in the district, Baker added, haven’t been comfortable coming into district facilities.
“I had people in the past regularly work with me and now aren’t working until things settle down,” Baker said. “Unfortunately, that’s a question we don’t know the answer to. I have subs that want to work, but are conflicted due to health issues, and that’s a decision I respect – they know what’s best for them. So, that’s the struggle we’re facing and what the pandemic has created, whereas a few years ago that wasn’t the scenario.”
At one time, Baker led the commonwealth in teacher fill-rates with 98 percent in the 2018-19 school year and added that, pre-pandemic, he worked with a pool of 120 substitutes. The teacher fill-rate is now down to about 80 percent, as of December, with a pool of about 80 substitutes, of which Baker said 25-to-35 are actively working. Sometimes that means using other district faculty and staff to pick up the slack when a void cannot be filled otherwise.
In November, the Bellefonte Area school board unanimously approved Baker to fill a new position as substitute coordinator that oversees the recruiting, hiring and training of substitutes for the district in five areas – clerical, custodial, food service, paraprofessionals and teachers. He comes to the position after working with the district in a similar capacity, but as the account manager for Kelly Services.
His trust and approachability among others are also the foundation to helping keep subs – and bring more substitutes – to the district.
“The thing I value most about this position is making sure I meet with every sub prior to placing them in a school setting,” he said. “I think it’s imperative, and it helps build that relationship and helps me understand their preferences, so I can help fill the voids in the school and help meet their needs the best I can.”
Baker said he suggests substitutes to “expect the unexpected” in all aspects of the school setting. Oftentimes, particularly in the classroom, is where having an educational background is an asset.
“Some days it might be perfect, but other days it won’t be, so I say, ‘expect the unexpected’,” he said with a laugh. “But nonetheless, substitutes will come in, be greeted by the office staff in the morning, gather plans and anything else they need, and report to the setting where they’re filling in for. At that point, they’ll go over the plans provided by the teacher or staff, address concerns with staff or administration as needed, and wait for students to come in and begin the day. It’s very much about following the lesson plan, but also having a bag of tricks up your sleeve.”
Recently, subs have also been used for additional coverage throughout the day with various aspects of building needs.
Baker brings a long educational history to the position. He followed 16 other members of his family who studied education at St. Bonaventure University in Allegany, N.Y. near where he grew up in the small McKean County borough of Eldred.
Calling it a “natural progression to get into the education field,” Baker graduated in 2011 with degrees in elementary, special and early childhood education. Using a child-development center as a stepping stone to land a job at the Meadows as a clinical teacher, Baker said his route through education was nontraditional. He also worked in Center City-Philadelphia teaching at an African-centered school before moving back to Central Pennsylvania.
Outside of work, Baker said he enjoys vacationing with his wife and spending time with family. He’s also involved in an adult volleyball team and regularly skis. He’s an avid collector of Pez dispensers with more than 4,000 in his collection, and is a fan of St. Bonaventure and Penn State athletics.
*By Brit Milazzo, public relations director, BASD