An Up North charter is 44 percent subs. You can’t tell difference, supt. says

Charlton superintendent

Superintendent David Patterson in the hallway of Charlton Heston Academy, where 44 percent of classrooms were staffed by uncertified long-term substitutes last school year. (Bridge photo by Ron French)

ST. HELEN – Angela Cichowski is a former repossession officer for a Northern Michigan credit union. Cichowski earned a bachelor’s degree at 37 in hopes of getting a promotion at the credit union. When the promotion didn’t come through, she started looking for jobs.

She applied at a county road commission, and to Charlton Heston Academy charter school in rural Roscommon County, where she thought she’d be qualified to work in payroll or as an office manager.

Instead, they asked if she’d like to become a teacher.

“It was a giant leap,” said Cichowski, now 40. “And I thought, I teach catechism (class) at church. And I’m like, it can’t be any different than that. So I said, ‘Why not? Let’s give it a shot.’”

Check how many long-term substitutes are in your school district or charter

Today, Cichowski is a certified teacher, earning her certification through an alternative, one-year program she attended while teaching full time at the school. “I taught seventh- and eighth-grade math,” she said, smiling broadly. “I fell in love.”



Angela Cichowski applied to be an office manager at Charlton Heston, but they offered her a teaching job. (Bridge photo by Ron French)

​About this project

A rising number of Michigan public schools are staffing classrooms with long-term substitutes with as little as 60 college credits and no formal education training. Bridge examines the implications of this practice for the state’s already-struggling schools. 



Charlton Heston Academy, named for the movie star and famous native son of tiny St. Helen, where more than two out of five teachers last year were long-term substitutes, is emblematic of the challenges faced by Michigan schools struggling to find certified teachers, and the open question as to whether putting untrained teachers into classrooms is the proper solution. 

A Bridge analysis of state data obtained through the Freedom of Information Act found a stunning tenfold increase in the use of long-term substitutes in Michigan classrooms since 2014. 

Long-term substitutes are not certified to teach in their assigned classrooms, and generally do not have traditional education training. They aren’t required to have a bachelor’s or even an associate’s degree ‒ just 60 total college credits. And the students who need the best teachers ‒ those who are struggling academically or have other academic-risk factors such as poverty ‒ are the most likely to have untrained teachers leading their classrooms.

By state M-STEP test scores, Charlton Heston has the lowest student achievement in the Crawford Oscoda Ogemaw Roscommon Intermediate School District (COOR), and has by far the highest share of long-term subs among teachers.  

That doesn’t necessarily mean untrained classroom teachers lead to poor test results. The charter also has the highest proportion of low-income students in the ISD, and test scores are typically correlated with poverty. 

Superintendent David Patterson said long-term subs are doing as good of a job as certified teachers at his school, though he’s quick to say he would prefer to hire teachers who are certified by the state. In a central office adorned with posters and movie stills of the school’s namesake, Patterson said people shouldn’t judge him and his school for the use of untrained teachers in classrooms until they’ve walked in his shoes. 

In recent years, it’s been easier for Charlton Heston to find students than teachers. 

This charter school has grown from 399 students in kindergarten through 12th grade in 2014-15, to 685 last school year. The school keeps building additions to accommodate more K-12 students (the school estimates an enrollment of 800 for September) as well as children in a nursery and preschool program that are as young as 6 weeks.

The school just purchased adjacent property to build athletic fields, a vocation-tech building and a dual-enrollment building. It sends buses across parts of four counties to pick up students each morning.

As the school has expanded, it has relied more and more heavily on uncertified teachers to fill those extra classrooms. In 2016-17, long-term substitutes made up 11 percent of the teaching staff, according to state data analyzed by Bridge Magazine. In 2017-18, it was 24 percent; in 2018-19, a whopping 44 percent.

The origins of that long-term sub growth date to the opening of the charter in 2012, Patterson said, when he went on a hiring frenzy, interviewing 53 certified teachers in two days.

“We went to hire very, you know, credentialed folks who had experience,” Patterson said. “But the one thing that we missed is we weren't truly looking for folks who wanted to teach here in rural Michigan, with rural poverty and understanding the dynamics of what goes on here.

“We lost nine teachers over the first two years,” Patterson said. 

With the school growing every year and fewer and fewer certified teachers interested in working there, Charlton Heston turned to long-term substitutes.

“We recruit all over the state,” Patterson said. “We’re looking for certified teachers, first and foremost. People tell me that the colleges of education are pushing out enough [education] graduates, but I don't see that.”

Enrollment in teacher prep programs at Michigan universities dropped 66 percent over seven years, between 2009 and 2016. While overall, there are enough teachers graduating from Michigan’s university-based teaching programs to replace teachers who retire and quit, they are not evenly distributed geographically or by teaching specialty, according to a report by the Citizens Research Council.

Charlton schools sign

It’s been easier for Charlton Heston Academy to find students than teachers. The school keeps growing, but it can’t find certified teachers. (Bridge photo by Ron French)

Other schools in this rural part of Michigan, though, don’t appear to have the same problem finding certified teachers. In 2018-19, the Charlton Heston charter employed more full-time substitute teachers than the COOR intermediate school district’s six traditional school districts combined, according to state data. The next highest proportion of long-term subs to certified teachers was less than one-seventh that of Charlton Heston (West Branch Rose City Schools, at 6 percent).

The school tries to only hire long-term subs who want to become certified teachers, Patterson said. In their first year at Charlton Heston, long-term subs work under the tutelage of a veteran teacher. In their second year, they take over a class of their own and enroll in an accelerated certification program at Saginaw Valley State University. The subs teach at the charter school during the week, and take classes on the weekend. By the end of the year, they can take tests to get a Michigan teaching certification.

The school pays for the program at SVSU, in exchange for a promise that the newly minted teachers stay at Charlton Heston for three years after gaining certification.

“You can’t tell the difference” between long-term substitutes and certified teachers at the school, Patterson said.

Kathleen Van Fossan, 30, will become a long-term substitute in September, teaching first grade at Charlton Heston. She has an associate’s degree in early childhood education from Oakland Community College and a bachelor’s degree in English from Alma College.

While that may sound like a good foundation to be a teacher, it doesn’t meet the requirements for certification. A traditional teacher certification in Michigan requires a bachelor’s degree in a teachable subject, completion of a teacher preparation program, student teaching experience and passing scores on teacher certification tests that measure general and subject knowledge.

Van Fossan laughing

Kathleen Van Fossan will become a long-term substitute this September and enroll in an accelerated teacher certification program. (Bridge photo by Ron French)

Working as a paraprofessional among preschoolers at the charter, “I just fell in love with working with students,” Van Fossan said. “I felt like I was really impacting lives.”

What makes her feel she can teach first-graders without a teaching degree?

“I’m passionate,” Van Fossan said. “I also have years of experience [working with preschoolers], so it’s not like I’m fresh blood.”

What long-term subs lack in academic education background, they make up for in life experience, argues long-term sub-turned-certified teacher Cichowski.

“If I would have went to school and came out at 24 to start teaching, I wouldn't have made it,” Cichowski said. “You have to have life experience, you have to have backbone.”

Cichowski is not a fan of a teacher certification test that, to her, has “absolutely nothing” to do with what life is like in a classroom. “It (the test to become a certified teacher) doesn't say that you're going to be dealing with emotions. It's just, ‘Do I know how to add or multiply or do algebra in order to teach it to the kids?’ That's the smallest part of my job. The absolute smallest.

“I would say that [long-term subs and certified teachers] are absolutely equivalent,” Cichowski said. “There’s a lot of misguided judgement from people because I didn’t go to school for teaching. I think they think we don’t deserve it. But I don’t think one’s better than the other.”

Elizabeth Birr Moje, dean of the University of Michigan School of Education, disagrees, as do studies that show students learn more in classes led by certified teachers.

“The increase in long-term substitutes should concern all of us,” Moje said, “because it means that our children and youth are not accessing full opportunity to learn.”

Back in the main office, superintendent Patterson said there likely will be fewer long-term substitutes at Charlton Heston in the 2019-20 school year. Many of the long-term subs from last year earned accelerated certifications so are no longer substitutes, and more than 90 percent of last year’s teachers signed up to return to the charter.

“I don’t think long-term sub usage is the issue,” Patterson said. “The issue is a teacher shortage. I’m not one to go in panic mode, but I think the panic button should have been hit a while ago on the shortage.”

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Wed, 08/07/2019 - 10:30am

“If I would have went to school and came out at 24 to start teaching, I wouldn't have made it,” Cichowski said. And she has a bachelor's degree in English? SMH.

Fri, 08/09/2019 - 6:15pm

My thought exactly. Sadly, I have also heard “I seen it” from an R.N.. I’m afraid this is Michigan’s new normal, thanks to Betsy DeVos’s self-funded Mackinac Center for Public Policy that has been seeking to undermine public education since 1987.

Mon, 08/12/2019 - 11:10pm

It was a quote from a dialogue. Most everyone speaks in improper grammar and tend to write better than they speak.

Wed, 08/07/2019 - 12:19pm

The question should be: Who are these long-term subs, or alternatively-certified teachers replacing?
Fully-certified teachers, or just a revolving door of inept, short-term subs?

My experience has been that many of these very challenged districts have to rely on other personnel to fill these roles, and it's often unrealistic to compare their staff's credentials. Unless we're prepared to somehow force teachers to relocate to inner-city or very rural districts, we must have the conversation about how to best recruit teachers for these classrooms.

Wed, 08/07/2019 - 2:13pm

And yet the parents at Charlton Heston seem to love their school. None of whom were quoted by Ron in this story.

Christian Young
Sat, 08/10/2019 - 8:01pm

He also interviewed me--a man who started out subbing and eventually got his certification--extensively for this series of stories, and I don't see my quotes in any of the stories.

Wed, 08/07/2019 - 5:59pm

If you can't tell the difference between the long term subs and the regular teachers, I don't think that speaks highly of the regular teachers.

Thu, 08/08/2019 - 1:34am

I think it said more about the unqualified superintendent!

Fri, 08/09/2019 - 4:10pm

Mr. Patterson is very qualified. He is doing a great job. Parents and the students along with this whole community love and respect him.

Sun, 08/11/2019 - 4:40pm

David Patterson is an accomplished, caring and very qualified Superintendent. He has been with CHA from the beginning, and I'm confident that very few people could have done for our school what Dave has managed. He cares about all of our kids, will meet with, or talk to, parents at ANY time ( he makes his cell number readily available), and cares about the community.
Rural communities are suffering. Not just schools, but health care, businesses, social services, the elderly. It's hard to recruit teachers into areas that don't have resources to support their families.

Mon, 08/12/2019 - 1:50pm

Perhaps it doesn't speak highly of the superintendent for not knowing or admitting the difference.

Wed, 08/14/2019 - 12:52am

Or perhaps you are misinterpreting what is being said? Mr. Patterson stated their school employs subs with full Bachelor degrees and a desire to become certified using an accelerated program, AND they are paired with mentor teachers. So perhaps he simply meant that because of these measures that they have employed at CHA, you can't tell the difference between their subs and their incoming certified teachers.

Joel Casler
Wed, 08/07/2019 - 6:37pm

Certified Teacher shortage is not an issue here. There are numerous certified teachers that are qualified to work in Michigan, but why would they ?? I personally know a number of Certified teachers with Master's degrees. And to a person they would tell you that they can (and DO) earn better wages, with greater job security and retirement benefits (pensions also) at other jobs that appreciates their efforts and contributions. If you're looking for advancement in a career, then being a teacher is sketchy at best with little or no job security and No representation (at least in these Charter Schools). Discipline as an issue is at best subjective and seldomly based in fact. But what someone says Always needs to be investigated yet seldomly is done to a proper standard. It's not what, but Who you know..... So why would MI teachers be interested in starting a career in the state that brought us Betsy DeVos ?!? .... Yoiks !

Wed, 08/07/2019 - 10:29pm

I’m sure if they dug into this particular schools wages, they’d find that an unfair amount of the schools budget goes to superintendents salary, which means their real teacher wages are not competitive with the surrounding real schools. Teachers are people- they aren’t going to rural, city, or Antarctica for chump change.

A Hope
Thu, 08/08/2019 - 10:25am

. After nearly four decades in teaching, in a variety of schools both public and private, I’ve always felt that administrators follow the ‘pegs and holes’ system of hiring teachers. They find a peg that will do for a particular hole, and as long as they are not getting phone calls from parents and the kids aren’t roaming the halls, administration is ok with the outcome. Add the fact that charters do not offer the benefits, salary, or job security of established districts, well, then, you get what you get. Yes, I have been a long-term sub. I worked for a lot less pay, zero job security, and a teensy annuity instead of healthcare or paid sick leave, and I was certified and experienced in the subject of my assignment. It was a poor employment situation for me, but way cheaper for the district than hiring me permanently. And I was off like a shot when I was offered a ‘real’ job elsewhere.

Sharon Andre'
Thu, 08/08/2019 - 11:28am

Please tell Ms. Van Fossen that correct grammar is " I would have gone", not "I would have went". Sad that she says she was an English major.
The principal states that you can't tell the difference between long term subs and certified teachers, yet CHA has the lowest achievement scores in the COOR school district. Pretty sad for the students attending his school.

Bill Wardin
Thu, 08/08/2019 - 9:41pm

Sharon, you wrote: "The principal states that you can't tell the difference between long term subs and certified teachers, yet CHA has the lowest achievement scores in the COOR school district." I'd hate to inform you of this, but the General Public Schools, after their Funding "Count Days," have a higher tendency to kick troubled teens out of their ranks, because they don't want to deal with them. CHA is a school that takes these kids, along with the kids that are failing out of public schools due to the rampant bullying issues, as well as children placed in local Residential Treatment Programs. Where the local public schools have huge issues with rampant bullying, because they look the other way...CHA works to actively prevent bullying. Yet, when these children arrive at CHA, they are already behind the learning curve, due to their years of their unchecked social and physical victimization. Why don't you compare the child suicide rates and attempts between the children in West Branch schools (Such as Ogemaw Heights), with that of CHA? (Just Google it) When CHA takes the kids that everyone else gave up on , failed to protect or will not take to begin with, then you will understand why their "Achievement scores are the lowest." Its easy for the public schools to get higher "Achievement Scores" if they get rid of all of the failing students. The Achievement Scores are not necessarily a "Long Term Subs vs. Certified Teachers problem...but a numbers game on the part of the local public schools. You need to take into consideration all of the local factors. Due to the poverty in the local surrounding areas, CHA attracts students of families suffering from poverty because they provide things to the students that the public schools do not. Not only do ALL of the children receive free breakfast, lunch and afternoon snacks, they can play sports, including uniforms, without fees or costs (unlike public schools), attend all field trips for free (unlike public schools), participate in drivers training programs for free (unlike public schools), and participate in FREE college classes while in school, before graduation. So, when considering all of the local concerns, and the students CHA works with, then you may get a clearer picture of why their Achievement Scores are lower...and why the local public schools are higher.

A Hope
Fri, 08/09/2019 - 10:02am

Ah, no, Bill, public schools cannot ‘get rid of’ failing students. Private schools can. However, it is an incredibly long process to expel a student from public schools, and it usually involves violence towards another student or a staff member. Public schools DO offer free breakfasts and lunches (and often a bag of food for weekends and holidays) for students who qualify for free or reduced lunches— in my neighborhood school, it’s 70% of the student population. You may be correct about ‘pay to play’ fees, but most schools will do their best to find funding for a kid who wants to play and can’t afford it. Ditto for field trip fees because public school staff members are always aware of, and sensitive to, the fact that fees are unaffordable for many families. As to free college, my district pays for as many as 10 credits per student, and many districts do likewise.
Feel free to be positive about your school, but check your facts before tearing down public schools, who DO accept everyone. They cannot, by law, pick and choose, as you imply. And, by giving their teachers a living wage and job security, traditional public schools have experienced teachers and a lower staff turnover.

Bill Wardin
Fri, 08/09/2019 - 11:39pm

A Hope - Of course you missed the point of my argument. My point was not to bash public schools, but to educate on why the "Achievement Scores" are lower, and show that it is not necessarily a long term substitute vs. certified teacher problem . As I see, you did not dispute the fact that Ogemaw Heights has a higher suicide rate among their teenage population, likely stemming from bullying. In fact, I know quite a few parents that send their kids to CHA, because their kids were victims of the Rampant Bullying that occurs in the Public Schools. Their parents switched their children's schools, so their children could concentrate on education, rather then fear and social isolation. Also, I also see that you did not refute that "Troubled Teens" from local Residential Treatment Facilities are also served by CHA...These are kids being treated for emotional or mental health problems, etc. And as you pointed out, "it is an incredibly long process to expel a student from public schools, and it usually involves violence towards another student or a staff member." In this you admit, some kids are expelled. I was not saying that they pick and choose who they keep or expel, but that they do expel kids, likely "troubled teens," who also have a tendency to be the kids that are failing. I also was not implying that a ton of kids get expelled; however, I did state that the kids that do get expelled, have a tendency to go to CHA. Here is a little math and what I mean by a "numbers game." As the article points out, there are approximately 600 students going to CHA, which services 12 grade levels. This means that there are approximately 50 kids per grade. Now...Ogemaw Heights serves 638 teens in four grades, which means that their are approximately 160 children per grade. Roscommon High school serves about 435 students in four grades, which means there are approximately 109 students per grade. These are only two school districts from which CHA pulls students. This does not include kids from Iosco County, Oscoda County etc. Now let us say that 2 children in 9th grade get expelled from Ogemaw Heights 9th grade class. One student gets expelled from Roscommon High. These three students need to find another school, and they go to CHA, because CHA will accept them, and CHA busing will pick them up in their local area. Lets also say, two children from a local Residential treatment program are attending the ninth grade at CHA (Which is a low number). Let us then also say that 3 kids from Ogemaw Heights get bullied, and two from Roscommon get bullied, and their parents send them to CHA. So now we have 10 kids, who have a greater likelihood of being educationally behind or deficient, from ONLY TWO of the local schools, attending the ninth grade year at CHA. As was noted earlier, the average class size at CHA would be around 50, using the numbers in this article. Therefore, as you can see, 10 out of the 50 kids in the class, are already at an educational disadvantage when they start attending CHA. That is 20% of the one grade level. Two failing kids being expelled from, or even staying at a larger school, with a grade of 160 students, really makes little difference in their "Achievement Scores. Yet, when a small amount of struggling students, from 5 or 6 local school districts move over to CHA, it makes a huge impact in their "Achievement Scores." In this way again, it shows that the negative Achievement Scores issue is not necessarily a long term substitutes vs. Certified Teachers issue... but rather a result of the population served by CHA. Deny it all you want, but even before their were Charter Schools, there have always been Alternative Education Schools available for the children, that were either kicked out of public schools or left for other reasons. I suspect that many of the parents that send their kids to CHA, do it as a last effort to keep them in a school, that would have in the past been served through Alternative Education Programs or other parochial schools. Let me also say, I respect all teachers, whether public, parochial or charter school teachers. I give kudos to CHA for helping individuals that want to teach, attain their teaching certification, while gaining on the job experience. It may not be the traditional route, but it appears to be a good option for those that choose it. I know many parents that are happy with the education their children are receiving at CHA, and several students that were failing in the public schools, but doing well at CHA.

A Hope
Sun, 08/11/2019 - 3:10pm

Of course students who are already challenged by poverty and/or disruptive family situations will have lower achievement levels than those with more stable and supportive backgrounds. I’ve taught in a variety of schools with kids from a lot of different backgrounds, from at-risk rural kids to wealthy private school kids. In fact, I taught the same subject, at the same level, with exactly the same textbooks and materials, to kids in three different schools: one that was populated by a fair proportion of kids from struggling rural families; one that was middle-of-the-road with around half the kids receiving free or reduced lunches; and a third school which was a private school with many, though not all, affluent families. Guess which kids had a higher achievement level? It wasn’t because I suddenly became a better teacher at the more affluent school.
My point is that charter schools do not have any inherent magical qualities that help kids succeed. In fact, to keep costs down, they often hire brand-new or uncertified teachers or long- term subs, and pay them accordingly less than public schools do. Their staff is not union, and I think there is merit to the argument that charters were created to break teachers’ unions in Michigan.
Charters then, usually have frequent staff turnover, which weakens programs and makes it hard for parents to stay involved. It is absolutely better for kids to have a qualified team of teachers who have worked together for awhile.
Parents are attracted to charters because they are sold on something new, and often kids will do better with a change of scene from their old schools, at least for awhile. The small class sizes in many charters can be a very good thing too, although at the secondary level, it is very difficult to offer a full spectrum of on-site courses when you only have 50 students in a grade. Secondary education is more expensive and complicated than elementary ed., because of things like science labs, art rooms, and Honors and AP classes, (which don’t lend themselves very well to online courses.) So charters tend to struggle with offerings and achievement at the high school level. They don’t have the money or the numbers to offer a full curriculum without resorting to a lot of online classes, which work well for only a small minority of students.
Finally, do not be so naive to think that charters are immune to bullying and suicides, as well as to drug use and absenteeism. Kids are kids and will have the same problems regardless of the school setting. Sharp-eyed caring teachers and counselors can help to prevent these serious problems, but cannot eradicate them. Your small class sizes will help with this in some ways, especially if your staff is dedicated and cares about kids. Yet small schools are both good and bad in that everyone knows everyone else’s business and once you have a certain identity at school, it is hard to shake it.
So, over the short haul, charters can be moderately successful for awhile, especially at the elementary level. Over the k-12 long haul, charters really haven‘t done much except draw off dollars from public schools and make everyone waste money on advertising when they should be using that money to educate kids.
And I suppose charters do provide a jumping-off point for teachers who need experience before applying for a job they can afford to stay in for a career, one with better wages, benefits, and protections against things like teaching 50 kids in a classroom in the corner of the gym, in a subject that wasn’t even in your minor.
And that, as Forrest said, is all I have to say about that.

Dan Lisuk
Fri, 08/09/2019 - 9:31am

Ms. Cichowski: “If I would have went to school and came out at 24 to start teaching, I wouldn’t have made it.” Ouch. Followed by characterizing the teaching degree cert. test as just knowing how to add, multiply and do algebra. She evidently hasn’t looked at the content objectives for even an elementary teacher: Yes, passion and dealing with emotions are a significant part of being a teacher, but a quality teacher has depth of content and an understanding of multiple teaching techniques to help students acquire the tools they need to open many doors in their future. They can draw from a deep knowledge base to meet the many spontaneous individual needs that a teacher constantly encounters in classroom instruction. No one truly versed in teaching would infer that it’s an easy job with shallow requirements.

Rabble Rouser
Fri, 08/09/2019 - 11:15am

how much are teachers paid at charleston academy?? Bet they are paid less than $36,000...that explains why they have no teachers..

Sat, 08/10/2019 - 12:38am

Smh at all the comments . The person who wrote this article sure didn’t have his facts . All the picture of our kids . Did he have permission to use them from the parents ? The writer probably rewrote quotes to make him self look better .
Where the quotes from parents ?