By Al Dozier
The teacher shortage keeps getting worse statewide but Lexington-Richland School District 5 is continuing to keep abreast, according to district officials.
Statewide, approximately 6,700 teachers left their positions by the end of the 2016-17 school year, according to a new report from the Center for Educator Recruitment, Retention and Advancement (CERRA). Two years ago the departures numbered just over 5,000.
At the beginning of the 2017-18 school year, districts reported 550 vacant teaching positions in S.C public school classrooms, a 16 percent increase compared to vacancies reported at the beginning of the 2016-17 school year, according to the report
District 5 has seen some shortages but has been able to operate effectively with its current staff, according to Director of Personnel Winnie Brown.
“While we do have a small number of vacancies left unfilled annually in high needs areas like world languages and special needs, our district is able to ensure that highly-qualified teachers will be in our classrooms teaching our students each year,” she said.
Brown said recruitment is a year-round process in District 5 that includes an annual Teacher Recruitment Event and recruitment events in partnership with colleges and universities. The district also has implemented incentives to attract and retain the best teachers, including incentives to teachers who obtain their National Board Certification and professional development opportunities.
“The teaching profession is a great one, and School District Five is a place where teachers are valued and supported,” Brown said. “We are ranked as the number one school district in South Carolina with the best teachers by Niche.com and second in the state for best places to teach.”
Prospective teachers interested in joining the district can attend a Teacher Recruitment Event on Feb. 3 at Irmo Middle School.
Low pay is considered one of the main reasons teachers are leaving the profession. S.C. teachers on average make $48,769 — about $800 a year less, on average, than teachers across the Southeast, according to state officials.
The state ranks 38th in the nation in average teacher salaries, according to the National Education Association.
State leaders are seeking a statewide salary increase. Lawmakers are expected to considered proposals in March.
But District 5 Board Member Jan Hammond said money is not the only problem.
“There’s so much more to the job now than teaching,” said Hammond, who teaches at Northside Middle School in Lexington District 2.
“It’s not about money.”
When people go into the profession they know it doesn’t pay big salaries, she said.
One of the big changes affecting the classroom environment is increasing pressure to get students to perform better scores on tests, she said.
The pressure starts at the state level comes down on school administrators who keep pushing teachers to raise performance levels.
Hammond said that’s a difficult task to perform.
“They don’t see how they can do it,” she said.
Hammond said it’s a different era for classroom teachers, who often have to deal with more discipline problems than in the past.
But she said she plans to “stay positive” and hope for better times.