UPDATE: One day the publication of this article Hutchins was sworn in as superintendent of schools.
The following is a column submitted by Michelle Hutchins, Interim County Superintendent of Schools, published here as a letter-to-the-editor:
Mendocino County Office of Education: A Perspective on Education
In Search of Excellent Employees
When we talk about jobs in education, most of us think of teaching. The truth is, education requires a whole team of people doing all sorts of jobs to provide students with the support they need to succeed. We transport children to and from school—with bus drivers. We feed students—with food service employees. We assist them when the teacher is busy with other students—with paraprofessionals (instructional aides). We provide clean, safe environments for learning—with custodians and maintenance workers.
Right now, schools throughout Mendocino County are struggling to hire enough bus drivers. Being a bus driver requires special training and a special license. Also, because drivers interact with students, they must pass a rigorous background check and drug screening. The work is done via a split shift (transporting students in the morning and then again in the afternoon with a break in the middle). Most positions are part time and pay between $13.68 and $28.37 per hour Some districts are combining bus driving with maintenance work so employees have a full-time position, but even with this creative solution, it is difficult to find enough drivers.
Bus drivers perform an essential service, safeguarding students as they travel to and from school. Drivers are usually responsible for between 40-70 students, everyone from Kindergarteners to high schoolers. And currently, the Mendocino County Office of Education is working on ways to decrease the cost of training and licensure so more people can get into the profession.
Now, if bus driving isn’t your thing, there are other important jobs in high demand in local school districts. Schools are often looking for instructional and special education paraprofessionals (aides). Teachers depend on paraprofessionals to assist with several important tasks, including differentiation. In any given classroom and on any given subject, students range from proficient to struggling. They need differentiated instruction. When a teacher has what we now call a “para” (used to be “aide”), the teacher can provide information at a slower pace for those who need it—that’s an example of differentiated instruction. Paras also help by preparing materials, grading, working with the class while the teacher manages a disruptive situation, and so much more. Special education paras work with students who have developmental disabilities and other challenges. These paras accompany students with special needs to help them overcome learning challenges.
To become a para, you do not need a college degree, but you must pass the paraprofessional exam, which is usually at the educational level of an associate’s degree. Paras are always under the guidance of a teacher, using the curriculum and instructional plans provided by the teacher. Paraprofessional usually work part-time and positions pay between $11.00 and $21.08 per hour, depending on the district.
The next job in high demand is the food service worker. Preparing and serving nutritious meals to students provides students with the fuel they need to succeed. Many students throughout the county depend on school meals for most of their nutrition. In many schools, we provide both breakfast and lunch, and in some districts—including Ukiah Unified and Willits Unified—all school meals are provided to all students free of charge. Food service workers earn between $11.00 and $20.27 per hour.
Another important job is that of custodian. The great thing about this position is that it that work is often done after hours, allowing it to serve as a second job. Custodians, in partnership with the daytime maintenance crew, help keep classroom clean and safe. Custodial work mostly involves cleaning floors and bathrooms, and sometimes windows. It is rarely heavy-duty cleaning. Custodians earn between $12.02 and $23.26 per hour.
If you’re looking for work and like the idea of helping children, consider working in education. They say one of the biggest determining factors of success for children is the presence of a consistent and supportive adult in their life. That could be a teacher, of course, but it could just as easily be a bus drive, a para, or any number of other adults in education.
This is a letter submitted to The Mendocino Voice, published here as opinion. The views stated in this letter are those of the writer alone and do not necessarily reflect those of The Mendocino Voice. This being a letter-to-the-editor, its content has not been fact-checked independently, nor has it been copy-edited — punctuation, capitalization, spelling, etc. are preserved from the original letter.