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Two superintendents say the struggle to hire teachers is real, regardless of geography

teacher in a blur with classroom
Bart Everson
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Flickr/Creative Commons

School administrators across North Carolina are feeling the pressure to find teachers to fill classrooms in the fall.

Several large urban school districts in North Carolina are reporting higher than usual teacher resignations last year. Durham Public Schools and Cumberland County Schools lost between 15-20% of teachers in the past year. A spokesperson for Wake County Public Schools says the district is waiting to release its final number of retirements and resignations as it continues to hire for open positions.

The surge in job openings is increasing competition among schools across the state. Superintendents from Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools and Edenton-Chowan Schools say the hiring crunch is affecting both their districts.

A rural perspective on hiring: Edenton-Chowan Schools

Rural schools may have a harder time competing for new teachers, even if they have fewer openings to fill.

“We're gonna potentially find ourselves August 29 with classrooms that are empty; there is no teacher to put there,” said Michael Sasscer, superintendent of Edenton-Chowan Schools.

Edenton-Chowan Schools is a school district in rural Eastern North Carolina comprised of four schools. The district has six classroom teaching positions to fill by August 29 in core subjects like math, English and social studies.

“We've interviewed candidates, but then candidates have selected other opportunities,” Sasscer said. “We're at the place now where there are no longer candidates for these positions.”

Michael Sasscer.jpg
Edenton-Chowan Schools
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Michael Sasscer is superintendent of Edenton-Chowan Schools in Chowan County near the Albemarle Sound in rural Eastern North Carolina.

According to 2021-2022 data from the Department of Public Instruction, Edenton-Chowan Schools had the 25th lowest local salary supplement for teachers in the state among 115 school districts. Sasscer says the rural setting and lack of affordable apartment housing in the area might also deter some candidates.

“In rural North Carolina, a teacher's choice to be here is really a designed life path,” Sasscer said. “Either they're from the region, they grew up in the region, or they have a desire to serve the demographic that we have here in Eastern North Carolina.”

Sasscer says if qualified candidates don't surface soon, the school district might find ways to allow certified teachers in local schools to teach classes virtually. He adds that could require teachers to double their class sizes, with half of their students learning remotely.

Sasscer says students could receive virtual instruction instead. As a former math teacher himself, he’s concerned what this means for students.

“There's the potential that we're going to have students in front of computers missing out on relationships, and not developing that dynamic connection with content, which I think has long term significant consequences,” Sasscer said.

Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools isn’t having any easier time hiring

“We have some of the same challenges that the other 114 districts across the state experience,” said Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Superintendent Nyah Hamlett.

Hamlett didn't have publicly releasable data on the number of teachers the district lost last school year, but like Sasscer, said she believed most of the losses in her own district were due to retirements. The issue has been the lack of qualified candidates to replace retirees.

Nyah Hamlett.jpg
Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools
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Nyah Hamlett is superintendent of Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools, located in the Triangle.

Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools has certain advantages when it comes to hiring teachers. The district offers one of the highest local salary supplements for teachers in the state, ranking fourth in the Department of Public Instruction’s 2021-2022 data. The district runs many high-performing schools in a relatively affluent university town with a teaching college, and is situated in an urban area with many amenities.

Hamlett says despite the perception that Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools is an attractive district for candidates, she says it may be a "misperception" that the district has had an easy time hiring this year.

“What we're finding is even with higher pay for positions like bus drivers, or increased supplements or bonuses that we offer, we're still struggling to find applicants that are qualified for the roles that they're applying for,” Hamlett said.

She explained that because other districts received more federal COVID-19 relief aid – due to the size and income level of the students they serve – neighboring districts have offered more competitive signing bonuses.

Hamlett says Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools has in some cases not had any qualified applicants for positions that are perpetually harder for schools to fill, like math and special education, also known as exceptional children.

“I actually met with a principal just yesterday, who shared that that particular school doesn't have any candidates for exceptional children,” Hamlett said.

Hamlett said she and the principal discussed ways in which classroom teachers already employed by the district who have a dual-certification in special education might be able to help serve those students.

“The hiring process is ongoing and fluid,” Hamlett said. “So I want to have a glass half full perspective, right? And remain hopeful that we will be able to attract and retain the employees that we know are going to really move the work forward on behalf of our students.”

Liz Schlemmer is WUNC's Education Reporter, covering preschool through higher education. Email: lschlemmer@wunc.org
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