Swing Education, a company founded by three Gunn High School graduates, is trying to end the substitute teacher shortage.
There’s been a nationwide teacher shortage over the past five years, and with it comes a substitute teacher shortage. So when teachers attend a conference or get sick – or their kids are sick – schools are scrambling to fill their positions. Enter Swing.
Swing is trying to solve the substitute teacher shortage from two angles: increase the pool of subs available and create an efficient way for schools and districts to get ahold of those substitute teachers.
Founded in San Mateo three years ago, Swing provides subs to the Los Altos School District and Mountain View Whisman School District, among others.
Founders Mike Teng, Oz Feng and Asha Visweswaran met at Gunn High in the late 1990s. Teng was a software engineer until he listened to an episode of “This American Life” about the Harlem Children’s Zone, a program that runs charter schools and supports impoverished families in New York. The Mountain View resident said the episode made him want to work in education, so he took a job with Rocketship Public Schools, a charter school organization. There, he realized what a problem the substitute teacher shortage is. So he teamed up with Feng and Visweswaran, went through a startup accelerator and got the company up and running.
Swing lowers the barrier to entry for substitutes by paying some of their initial costs. Those who want to become a sub need a background check for each district they might work in, a negative tuberculosis test and a substitute-teaching permit. The fees can quickly add up to hundreds of dollars, but Swing reimburses them.
Then Swing supports the subs through their careers, providing educational resources and hosting community activities. For Carrie Kari, a former permanent teacher and now a substitute, that community makes a big difference.
“If you sub through the school district, you’re an employee of the district, but you’re not really part of the community,” Kari said. “But Swing has raffles, a party at Christmastime – you feel like you’re part of a community.”
Kari was a full-time elementary school teacher, but she became a substitute teacher because she wanted to start a business and needed a more flexible schedule. She’s subbed in the Los Altos and Mountain View Whisman school districts.
Visweswaran said she hopes the service will help with the teacher shortage – not just the substitute teacher shortage. Getting potential teachers into the classroom might inspire them to become permanent teachers, and then Swing can provide those people with the resources to do so.
Swing works differently for traditional public schools than it does for private and charter schools. Districts like the Los Altos School District already have a system in place for finding substitute teachers, but if they have last-minute positions they can’t fill or they know they’ll need many subs at once, they’ll use Swing. Otherwise a principal or a credentialed aide might have to cover for that class, taking them away from their regular duties. Marlene Revelo, human resources specialist for the district, said that with Swing, they are able to fill nearly all of the substitute positions.
“Our principals have been really happy getting a pretty much 100 percent fill rate,” Revelo said.
Charter schools and private schools might not have their own pool of substitutes, so they’re more likely to use Swing exclusively. The company primarily serves California, but it works with some schools out of state. According to company officials, they’ve worked with more than 700 schools and filled more than 73,000 absences.
For more information, visit swingeducation.com.