Needham superintendent crowdsourcing ideas to help staff navigate Massachusetts coronavirus vaccine ‘Hunger Games’

A Massachusetts school superintendent is crowdsourcing ways to help his teachers and staff fight through the state’s “Hunger Games” of a vaccine registration process.

“Hey, Needham, I need your help: If you’ve suggestions/ideas that’ll enable our staff — teachers, bus drivers, clerical/tech, custodial, nutrition services, & admin. staff — to get quick access to vaccines, will you let me know?” Needham Public Schools Superintendent Daniel Gutekanst tweeted on Saturday.

Teachers, school staff and child care workers become eligible to sign up for coronavirus vaccines in Massachusetts this week, though some have already been able to snag appointments through CVS’s federal pharmacy program.

With some 400,000 educators and staff able to sign up on Thursday — on top of thousands of other eligible residents still seeking shots — Gutekanst doesn’t want employees in his district entering the virtual arena unprepared.

“I’m doing whatever I can to provide resources for our staff to get vaccinated. I feel it’s a little bit like the ‘Hunger Games’ out there,” Gutekanst told the Herald. “I’m just looking for ways for them to feel some reassurance and confidence in returning to the classroom.”

Needham schools have been in a hybrid learning model, but are bringing K-2 students back full-time beginning this week. And they’re anticipating the return of more grades as the state pushes to get all elementary school students learning in-person in April.

“My No. 1 priority is health and safety for students and staff, and I feel if I can do even a little bit of outreach to the community and get some ideas, I want to pass them on,” Gutekanst said.

Gutekanst said he’d received upwards of two dozen suggestions in the few hours since he posted his tweet, from tips on how to navigate sometimes glitchy websites, to volunteer groups helping people book shots.

“It’s important for all of our workers — cafeteria workers on the front lines serving food every day to our kids, our custodians who are cleaning up after them, our teachers and teachers assistants,” he said. “We need this protection.”

Gov. Charlie Baker — who expanded vaccine eligibility to educators and staff after President Biden challenged states to get at least one shot into the arms of all school and child-care workers by the end of the month — said the state will “designate specific days at mass vaccination sites” for educators to get their vaccines, possibly on weekends.

Still, state Sen. Rebecca Rausch, a Democrat who represents Needham, blasted Baker for leaving teachers across the state — and in his former hometown — scrambling for shots.

“It’s not fair for teachers to spend their already limited time searching mediocre-at-best websites to try and find appointments,” Rausch said.

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