Tom Forcella: CHCCS won’t settle for just filling vacancies

09/01/2014 10:08 AM

09/01/2014 10:09 AM

A new school year always fills me with a renewed sense of purpose and optimism for all the wonderful opportunities we can provide our students. As superintendent, I am excited for the start of another school year in which we will continue the strong tradition of success in Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools.

Our district’s reputation for excellence in academics, fine arts, athletics and extracurricular programs is well known. This level of distinction would be impossible without our highly qualified teachers’ hard work.

However, this year, our schools, along with schools throughout North Carolina, face a serious challenge – the large number of teachers who are fleeing the profession or leaving for private schools or other districts.

Sadly, we predicted this would happen.

Teacher dissatisfaction has been on the rise as a result of actions taken by the North Carolina legislature over the past few years. When the state budget began experiencing shortfalls, teacher salaries were frozen. As of the start of this fiscal year, our state ranked 46th in the nation in teacher pay (this was prior to recent legislation that did raise salaries, but mostly for beginning teachers).

Recent legislative actions reduced funding for teacher assistants, removed some pay incentives for teachers who further their education with advanced degrees, scrapped the N.C. Teaching Fellows program and failed to provide adequate funding for textbooks and technology. Bills were even introduced to create pay raises only for teachers willing to relinquish “career status.”

Teachers feel attacked.

The most recent teacher turnover report from the state Department of Public Instruction, which covers 2012-13, showed the number of teachers who resigned to teach in another state has been increasing since 2010-11.

Here in CHCCS, we experienced our highest turnover rate in the past ten years at 16 percent.

Add to that the fact that our universities do not provide enough teaching candidates for the state’s vacancies. We depend upon recruiting out-of-state teachers. It was only a few years ago when North Carolina was considered a progressive state and national leader in education. We were a popular landing spot for prospective teachers.

That has all changed. North Carolina’s national reputation has deteriorated considerably.

This has been a challenging summer for staffing at all of our schools. More offers than ever before have been declined. Teachers are declining offers – or resigning from CHCCS – to accept positions at private and charter schools that provide higher starting salaries.

Late resignations are also an issue. This often occurs when teachers are shopping offers from multiple school districts. They won’t resign until a new position has been officially offered. Since July 1, CHCCS has had 34 resignations. This creates an extremely challenging situation since late vacancies are difficult to fill. This is especially true for hard-to-fill areas such as high school science, math and exceptional children teachers.

Despite these challenges, I must commend the tremendous efforts of our human resources staff to ensure that each of our classrooms has a qualified teacher in place for the 2014-15 school year. To help with their recruitment efforts, signing bonuses have been approved and advertised for designated areas.

I am happy to report that we have hired over 160 teachers since May 1.

Despite the added difficulties brought on by recent legislation, I want to assure our community that each school in our district worked diligently to interview and fill vacancies while also maintaining the integrity of the process by only selecting excellent candidates … as opposed to simply filling spots.

Although not ideal, there may be cases in which we need to begin the school year with a substitute teacher while we continue to seek the very best, highly qualified teachers for our students.

While the loss of quality teachers certainly creates a hardship for all of North Carolina’s public schools, the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools remains committed to providing our students with the very best teachers – and the very best educational experience possible.

We are fortunate to have a community, a Board of Education and a Board of County Commissioners that strongly support our school district. I am looking forward to a new school year filled with learning, growth, achievement, and great experiences for every student.

Tom Forcella is the superintendent of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools.

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