RANDOLPH COUNTY — Aaron Black, the superintendent of the Randolph Eastern School Corporation, started his Wednesday off in a way you probably wouldn't expect.
He was getting ready to teach a high school class because of staffing shortages.
"My willingness to jump in and help cover the classroom is more because I keep telling my administrators we want to hold the line and stay in person and they are on board too," Black said. "They'll jump in and cover class and teachers have been phenomenal doing the same."
He said the district wants to keep students in the classroom and avoid virtual learning if possible. But the COVID-19 pandemic is presenting staffing challenges for his district and districts across the state.
"As some major neighboring districts have had to make moves to go virtual, and I completely understand the why, but I would much rather myself go down to work in the classroom and supervise students that can work on assignments and keep them in front of a teacher ... So we're gonna hold the line as long as we can and it's just all hands on deck."
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the need for substitute teachers is greater. Black said because most of the subs in the district are retired teachers, some aren't willing to get back into the classroom due to the risks.
"That game of getting classes covered, honestly that happens daily, and that's again, another burden, something else that our administrators and teachers are carrying on a daily basis because of the pandemic," Black said.
Parents have told Black they want their kids in school learning. And he and his staff have learned while they can get by with remote learning, it's a band-aid but it's not the best option.
Especially younger students, Black said when they are learning remotely, they are not only missing out on demonstrations but social interactions as well.
Black, an alum of the Randolph Eastern School Corporation, has been with the district for nearly 10 years. The district is in a small, close-knit town, he said, and he knows his staff really well. He's noticed something is different recently.
"I think the mental health aspect is being underplayed quite a bit," he said. "They're just not the same if I'm being quite honest with you. They're wearing this, they're carrying this a lot. The burden on our staff just trying to figure out who's here who's not here, and who's supposed to have a mask on who's been vaccinated. All those things weigh into the struggles of just that kind of day-to-day teaching happens as well."
Students are also dealing with the mental health aspect and struggles as well.
"I just worry that as a society, we're not giving that the attention that it needs in the midst of this pandemic because it's going to have a long-term effect," Black said. "I don't think we know quite yet what that's going to be, but our students are carrying this for the long-term and their mental health should be at the top of the priority list as far as things we're addressing right now."
Black said the constantly changing rules from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention and the local and state health departments are adding to the frustration and burden on students, parents and staff members.
"I'm not saying they shouldn't have been I'm just saying that it's a constant moving target. So our teachers and our kids and our parents especially just get extremely frustrated by that quarantine phone call or that positive phone call."
The constantly changing rules have become confusing for everyone, he said.
"I'll be honest with you, it's almost like we just want to throw our hands up in the air and just say 'We were just going to do the best we can and honestly just hope and pray for the best' because it is a burden. It's a burden on my administrative staff, and especially on my school nurse who has been amazing through all this, but just falling and keeping up with the rules have been extremely difficult."
The one thing he wants the community, students and staff to understand? "Patience is key."
"We get the frustration and we know how hard it is but we need our families, our community to be extremely patient as we continue to work through the pandemic," Black said.
Last week, WRTV emailed more than 100 school administrators and staff members to inquire about some of the challenges districts are facing.
You can read more about what they said here.