St. Paul public schools hired a private firm this year to find substitute teachers, but the struggle to fill absences — an issue first reported here in October — continues.

An update presented to school board members this week showed that Teachers On Call filled a smaller percentage of substitute slots than the district did when it managed the substitute teaching pool itself.

The percentage of absences filled by Teachers On Call dropped from 88 percent in September to 82 percent in December. The district's daily "fill-rate" goal is 90 percent. When classroom absences go unfilled, teachers are more likely to be pulled out of training sessions or principals have to rotate remaining teachers with time available.

Superintendent Valeria Silva noted that the frustration of finding substitutes is not unique to St. Paul. Laurin Cathey, the district's human resources director, said that the need for St. Paul teachers to receive iPad-related training has contributed to the number of daily openings, but illness remains the biggest factor in teacher absences.

"This is the year of the flu," added Silva.

The district is weighing whether to have teachers who are on special assignment serve as substitutes in the spring, Cathey said. He also is considering hiring 15 full-time substitute teachers for the 2015-16 school year. What he's not about to do is call for an end to the Teachers On Call arrangement. Cathey told the board he wants to work with the firm to build the substitute pool.

Anthony Lonetree

Minneapolis 'hard on leaders,' Johnson says

Departing Minneapolis Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson's spoke passionately at her last school board meeting Tuesday, saying, "This district and this community is hard on its leaders." She again said that she stands by her work and was hurt by comments made by some in the community she did not care about students of color.

"Some of the ways that people have categorized me is hurtful," she said.

The school board also passed a new high school graduation policy. It will reduce the requirement for physical education from one year to one semester. It also reduces the requirements for social studies. There are no requirements for foreign languages or ethnic studies, something the previous board wanted.

District staff says reducing those requirements will allow more flexibility for electives.

Alejandra Matos

Prior Lake-Savage chief to retire at year's end

After seven years as the leader of the Prior Lake-Savage district, Superintendent Sue Ann Gruver will step down at the end of this year.

Gruver has been involved in education for 32 years, first in Indiana and later in Minnesota. Before she was superintendent, she served as assistant superintendent in the Mahtomedi district, an elementary school principal, a reading teacher, librarian and classroom teacher.

Since 2008, she has led the district in passing a referendum that built a new elementary school and maintained class sizes, helped the district expand its focus on environmental education and E-STEM (environment, science, technology, engineering and math) and opened an addition to Prior Lake High School.

On Feb. 9, the board will share a timeline for hiring a new superintendent.

Erin Adler