Teacher Recruitment and Retention Big Problem in CCSD
September 6, 2017
By John Steinberger | Contributing Writer
The Citadel Zucker Family School of Education hosted a forum Thursday at the Francis Marion Hotel on the emerging teacher shortage in Charleston County and around the country. The forum focused on steps to improve teacher recruitment and retention. Charleston County School District (CCSD) currently has vacancies for 68 teachers, 10 teacher assistants and six guidance counselors, according to the district’s website. The district recently hired 14 math teachers from India to fill critical vacancies.
The forum was kicked off by The Citadel Dean of Education Larry Daniel, who remarked, “Teaching is the one profession that prepares students for every other profession and a chance for success in life.” Forum sponsor Anita Zucker noted that the Charleston area’s burgeoning high-technology sector will require more teachers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) and that innovation will be needed to make the teaching profession more desirable.
Retired Navy Rear Admiral Robert Besal told the approximately 150 participants that K-12 education must improve to maintain the nation’s military readiness. He serves on a national advisory panel called Mission Readiness, which addresses health and education issues crucial to military staffing. He said, “A shortage of teachers will impact whether we can field a technologically advanced fighting force in the future.” Besal left the audience with an alarming statistic – 74% of South Carolina’s 17 to 24 year-old population is not qualified to serve in the military. He cited low aptitude, obesity and drug use and criminal activity as dis-qualifiers for South Carolina’s youth. He suggested incentives for retired military members who choose to enter the teaching profession, including waiving the collection of state income tax on military retirement income and fast-track teacher certification.
Kelly Kovacic, a former finalist for National Teacher of the Year, discussed her education advocacy group Commit! in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. She detailed teacher recruitment efforts in that area, including paying teacher “ambassadors” a stipend to visit high schools and colleges, social media videos featuring teachers, and a billboard campaign promoting the teaching profession. She also described efforts to improve conditions in high-poverty schools, including adding teacher-assistant positions in the classroom. CCSD has recently reduced positions in high-poverty schools, including student concern specialists and parent advocates.
Berkeley County Teacher of the Year Nicholas Snyder, an English teacher at Cane Bay High School near Summerville, told the participants that positive school leadership is the most important factor in teacher retention. He said that mentoring and encouragement by principals, assistant principals and experienced teachers is especially important for first-year teachers. Teachers attending a listening tour with CCSD Superintendent Gerrita Postlewait in June expressed deficiencies in the mentoring program. A teacher suggested that the district pay retired teachers to serve as mentors for first-year teachers.
South Carolina State Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman said that we need the community to speak more positively about the teaching profession. She also mentioned the trend in South Carolina schools to adopt programs that work and quickly abandon them. CCSD recently scrapped the nationally acclaimed Personalized Learning program, which was showing promise in many of the district’s high-poverty schools, and a remediation program for elementary students reading below grade level.
Dorchester County School District 2 has enjoyed continuity of leadership, unlike its neighboring districts. Joe Pye has served as Superintendent since the late 1990s. Many teachers serving in CCSD seek jobs in District 2 each year. Pye said recruiting math and science teachers is even a challenge in his district, as college graduates in those fields are in high demand and can earn much more in other fields. He suggested that the state legislature consider providing premium pay for critical teaching positions.
Recruiting and retaining quality teachers is crucial to improving performance in CCSD, along with more positive school leadership. The Superintendent’s listening tour with teachers showed that much can be done to make CCSD schools more accommodating. For example, a West Ashley High School teacher mentioned that multiple teachers were assaulted in her department. Another teacher mentioned that the air conditioning is turned off a half hour after students are dismissed. Better management of the CCSD will reduce the number of teacher vacancies and improve student performance.
John Steinberger is the editor-in-chief of LowcountrySource.com. To contact him, email John@LowcountrySource.com.