DCSD making improvements with teacher shortfall

A group of teachers participating in DCSD’s Project Teach take a photo outside the DCSD District Office. Photo Contributed

By Melissa Rollins, Editor, editor@newsandpress.net

The teaching profession was once thought to be a worthy calling, influencing the next generation of leaders. Today, a shortage of teachers across South Carolina and the nation puts school districts in the difficult position of finding someone who will come to their schools but, perhaps even more importantly, someone who will stay.

Matthew Ferguson, Director of Personnel for Darlington County School District, said that DCSD has not been immune to the shortage but is currently in a manageable state.

“We currently have six teacher vacancies,” Ferguson said. “We added two of those today (Sept. 27) because of numbers in our schools; class sizes are up so we added those two new positions. Most of those six vacancies have a licensed teacher in place. They are retired teachers who are teaching until we find a suitable, long-term replacement.”

Ferguson said that even with teachers graduating from college every year, the gap is wide.

“We have been lucky because there are nearby districts who have a much greater number of vacancies,” Ferguson said. “Across the state, it is a huge problem. I think the most recent stat is that there are 6,500 teachers who left last year, for whatever reason. There are only around 1,800 teachers who come out of South Carolina teacher education programs each year and that number continues to go down. If every one of those teachers goes into a position in South Carolina that only fills a third of those positions.”

While STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) positions are often much harder to fill, Ferguson said that DCSD has bucked that trend this year.

“It is surprising because the vacancies we currently have are in elementary and early childhood; traditionally that area has not been our focus,” Ferguson said. “I think that shows that we are doing a good job recruiting in our critical needs areas. Science, math and exceptional education are usually where we see the most vacancies and the least number of candidates. We have a number of student teachers who are finishing up their degrees and we are hoping to recruit those hard and fill those when they graduate in December.”
With the lack of homegrown teachers, DCSD has had to look outside of the state, and in some cases even outside the country, to find certified teachers.

“We have worked with out of state recruiting (before); we are trying to build that back up in the district,” Ferguson said. “We went away from it for a little while because of budget concerns but we are ramping back up with our out of state recruiting in places like Ohio and Pennsylvania…We are also doing things locally through the local colleges. We try to work on our relationships there and try to get the students who are interested in education early, get them in our schools to do their internships and show them that Darlington County is the best school district around and is the best place to work so that they only want to look here when they graduate.”

The district currently has around 20 international teachers from countries like India, the Philippines, Thailand and Hungary. Ferguson said that without using international teacher recruitment services like EPI, the shortage would be much worse than it is.

The leadership of DCSD recognized the need to retain the teachers that they are able to recruit and instituted a mentorship program over a decade ago.

“Through our recruitment and retention we also have a focus on mentoring new teachers,” Ferguson said. “We want to provide them with someone in their building and also at the district level. They meet once a month through Project Teach to discuss classroom management issues, instructional issues; it is a place for them to say ‘I am having a hard time with this, what should I do?’ Research shows that 18 percent of teachers quit in their first year and 38 percent quit in the first five years. We are looking at how we support those teachers during year one but also how we extend that support into the first five years.”

School districts in the same region and state are often competition for one another when it comes landing graduating teacher candidates, with some offering signing bonuses coming in around the $10,000 – $12,000 mark. Ferguson said that DCSD does offer signing bonuses and some retention bonuses for critical needs areas and is working to remain competitive with neighboring districts. He credits the school board with recognizing the importance of increasing teacher pay to draw well-qualified teacher candidates.

Author: Duane Childers

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