D50 board 190916 (copy)

From left, District 50 Assistant Superintendent of Instruction Brad Nickles, Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources Christi Louden and Assistant Superintendent of Business Rodney Smith at a September board meeting. Louden offered insight into District 50's current teacher employment status, and talked about teacher retention and hiring more teachers and school faculty.

South Carolina’s teacher shortage dilemma continues to plague school districts, but progress is being made.

This past school year, 6,650 full-time teachers left the position — a 9% drop from 2017-18.

The Center for Educator Recruitment, Retention, and Advancement, or CERRA, released its Annual Educator Supply and Demand Report for 2018-19.

The study attributes the decrease to the decline in teacher retirements.

The ending of the Teacher Employee Retention Incentive program, often called TERI, is the culprit for the decrease, CERRA Coordinator of Communications and Program Development Todd Scholl said.

TERI allowed state workers to retire and continue working for a limited period of time, and the worker’s monthly retirement benefits were deposited into a special account for a maximum of five years.

The 2017-18 school year saw a lot of teachers retire from the classroom, and continue teaching through TERI so the percentage of teachers who left the profession increased because they retired all at once.

“We saw that number come back down, same as teachers leaving the classroom,” Scholl said.

Teachers not retiring can be correlated to an increase of first-year teachers returning to their positions in 2019-20. The study reports 28% of first-year teachers hired for the 2018-19 school year did not return to their positions for 2019-20, last year 34% of newly hired teachers did not return for 2018-19.

Scholl said that he and CERRA place a huge emphasis on training mentors, so “first year teachers have access to a well-trained teacher mentor.”

Scholl acknowledged that there are reasons for a teacher’s departure that CERRA cannot assist with, such as pregnancy or family matters, but they do attempt to eliminate the issues that are solvable, such as classroom management issues and teachers not delivering lesson plans correctly.

“Teachers go in and the experience is not what they thought it was going to be,” Scholl said.

Salary and working conditions are decisive reasons for teachers leaving, or potential teachers not entering the profession, Scholl said.

“It is up to our state leaders to determine how much they want to create incentives to go into the teaching profession,” Scholl said.

The study reported that there will be 555.5 teaching vacancies in public school classrooms in the state at the beginning of the 2019-20 school year. This is an 11% decrease in comparison to vacancies reported at the beginning of the 2018-19 school year. The study notes that most vacancies are caused by teacher departures, regardless of when they were filled throughout the school year.

Districts are doing the best they can by recruiting out of state, and the county, Scholl said. He said that there are a “significant number of international teachers that they (district schools) brought in.”

He said the hiring of out of state and international teachers is a “Band-Aid approach” until the state improves salary and working conditions.

He suggests districts show that they are a district that supports teachers’ voices, give teachers autonomy and do not micromanage them.

“Show that they value the service they provide for those students in the districts,” Scholl said.

There are some geographically isolated areas in South Carolina, and Scholl thinks the best strategy for those areas is to grow teachers from within by implementing teacher cadet and teacher improvement programs.

“Teachers from those communities are more likely to come back because they are from there,” Scholl said.

Christi Louden, District 50 assistant superintendent of human resources, said most of the district’s new hires out of college come from Lander University because “most of them are familiar with the Greenwood community.”

“We begin that relationship early,” Louden said. “They are in our schools, some of them as early as our freshman year. They are familiar with our schools, familiar with our administrators and I think that gives us a leg up because most people are going to stay where they feel comfortable.”

District 50’s data reflects CERRA’s data, Louden said. The district did not have a significant increase or decline in the number of teachers who left, the number remains stable from the previous year.

Louden’s and the district’s solution to combat the teacher shortage is to keep the great teachers they already have by supporting them and building a strong culture and community because the district will not “have to recruit as much if you retain the people that you already have.”

Another way the district is combating the teacher shortage is by using Swivl — an education-oriented livestreaming software — to livestream the teachers’ class sessions to multiple classrooms. Students would alternate days, one day they would learn from their teacher face-to-face, another day they will be in a classroom with an instructional assistant and would learn from their teacher via livestream.

The district continues to try to fill vacancies and their fourth annual recruitment fair from 8:30-10:30 a.m. Jan. 25 at Emerald High School is their next effort to hire certified teachers, bus drivers, custodians, substitute teachers and instructional assistants.

“Every particular job, we are recruiting for,” Louden said.

Contact reporter Jonathan Limehouse at 864-943-5644 or follow him on twitter @jon_limehouse.