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WUNC's education coverage is led by reporters Dave Dewitt and Reema Khrais. Dewitt has been with the station since 2003. Khrais is focused on Education Policy Reporting. Browse recent stories here.

School Districts Face Different Teacher Recruitment Challenges

As a new teacher for Wake County Schools, Vasti Rodriguez earns one of the highest local salary supplements in the state.
Jess Clark

Schools faced teacher shortages as students returned to the classroom last month. School districts across the state have different challenges when it comes to finding teachers, depending on where they’re located.

Rural districts, most of which offer lower salaries than urban districts, can find it especially tough to recruit new teachers, but they’re coming up with some creative solutions.

Jillian Kline is a first-year middle school teacher in special education at Cordova School in Rockingham, North Carolina. But being from New York State, she never expected she and her fiancé would move to a rural school district in North Carolina.

“Most of my family is in New York State,” Kline said, “so I was going to stay around there, but we wanted to start a career, and this just seemed like a really cool place.”

A really cool place, yes. Cordova School is one of few schools in the state exclusively for students with severe disabilities. The hallways are clean, wide and bright, with colorful carvings of animals etched into the walls.

“I just loved this school and this environment,” Kline said.

But Cordova School had something else Kline had trouble finding in her home state: open teaching positions.

“It is a little difficult,” Kline explained. “There’s a lot of certified teachers that are working as teaching assistants [in New York], so trying to find a job is kind of hard […] even within special education.”

Kline is one of many teachers in the Richmond County school district who come from states like New York that have a surplus of teachers.

Julian Carter handles human resources for the district. He says Richmond County schools recruits heavily in states with teacher surpluses because the district has a hard time attracting graduates from North Carolina.

“Going up North we know because there’s such a teacher excess that we have a shot at getting some of these people,” Carter said.

New teachers in North Carolina tend to flock to the state’s larger, more urban districts where there are more resources and higher pay.

New teachers like Vasti Rodriguez. Rodriguez also is a first-year middle school teacher in special education. But Rodriguez moved from rural Greenville to take her first job in Wake County---the largest district in the state.

“My family and I wanted to move to Wake County.” Rodriguez said. “We just wanted a more diverse, more city-like environment. And then of course while doing my research and trying to apply for jobs, I noticed about the salary, which was higher.”

On top of the base salary the state pays her, Rodriguez earns a $5,000 yearly supplement from the local school district. Wake, like other large, relatively wealthy districts, has the tax-base to support a high supplement. In Richmond County, Kline gets a supplement, too; but Rodriguez’s supplement is almost $4,000 a year more.

"Going up North we know because there's such a teacher excess that we have a shot at getting some of these people."

The district’s human resources director Julian Carter says a rural district like Richmond can’t offer supplements like Wake’s. So in order to compete for teaching talent, the district has to look out of state, and think out-of-the-box during a teacher recruitment weekend---a weekend that even includes kayaking.

“We have a green-trail that we use for kayaking,” Carter said. “It’s about a three mile trip from Robert Hill Lake to Steel Street Bridge. And we have a cook-out for them when they get through […] We just want to pamper them a little bit.”

And pamper them the district does. Richmond County schools also helps new recruits find homes, and Carter says the district is even planning to build an apartment complex specifically for teachers.

But although Carter says his recruiting does land top teaching talent, the harder part is keeping teachers in the district.

“People get homesick. People go home to be with their families, and it does happen,” he said.

Carter says many of the district’s teachers stay for a few years and then go back to their home-states, where they can earn more money than teachers in any of North Carolina’s districts.

But fortunately for Cordova School, first-year teacher Jillian Kline says she can see her and her fiancé making a future in Richmond County.

“I like it so far, I think we’re planning on staying for a while.”

Jess is WUNC's Fletcher Fellow for Education Policy Reporting. Her reporting focuses on how decisions made at the North Carolina General Assembly affect the state's students, families, teachers and communities.
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