Is Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools losing too much talent? Some parents think so

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Educators and their supporters from across the state chant "Remember, remember, we vote in November" during a march on the opening day of the legislative session on Wednesday May 16, 2018.
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Educators and their supporters from across the state chant "Remember, remember, we vote in November" during a march on the opening day of the legislative session on Wednesday May 16, 2018.

Karen Herpel’s children, at Carrboro Elementary School and Smith Middle School, are both losing principals this year, and Herpel isn’t sure the district is doing enough to hold on to talent.

“I am concerned that over the past few years, teachers, admin and central office staff have headed toward the exits,” Herpel told the Board of Education recently. “A greater concern is that, in many cases, the path to the exits was paved for them. Some of our best talent has left for Durham, Wake and Chatham counties.”

These changes, she said, mean the district loses institutional knowledge, stability and a sense of community.

“These individuals have not left the state, and in many cases have not left the field of education,” she said.

Herpel, who was cut off after exceeding the time limit for public comment, pointed to the district’s attrition rates on all levels. But a spokesman for the school district said things might not be as clear cut as some think.


In 2018, 8.1% of North Carolina teachers left public schools, for reasons like other jobs or retirement, according to the Department of Public Instruction’s State of the Teaching Profession report.

The five districts with the lowest attrition rates, Macon, Camden, Yancy, Dare and Caldwell, saw 4% to 6% of their teachers leave public schools entirely. Warren County had the highest attrition rate, at 32.5%.

These numbers only reflect the percentages of teachers who left teaching in the state’s public schools entirely. It doesn’t reflect movements between districts.

Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools did lose roughly 13% of its teaching staff last year, as Herpel told the board.

But only 9.7% of the teaching staff (88 teachers) left N.C. public schools, closer to the state’s 8.1% attrition rate, according to the DPI report. The other 3.2% (29 teachers) moved to a different district.

“It’s hard to compare with the state, but we can compare with previous years,” district spokesman Jeff Nash said.

While there is still time for teachers to leave before the 2019-20 school year, the district is currently at a 10.8% attrition rate for 2018-19, compared to last year’s 13%. In 2015-16, the total attrition rate was 18%.

Nash, who has seen similar concerns from parents on Facebook, said it’s hard to say exactly why teachers leave. Over half of those leaving the district cited personal reasons, which Nash said includes such things as moving out of state and going to private schools. Nash pointed out that it looks to be the same in other school districts.

“I don’t think our numbers stand out among other districts,” Nash said. “I think the bigger question is what do you do to fill those spots.”

Chapel Hill-Carrboro pays a supplement that adds 16% to teachers’ base pay set by the state. That’s more than Durham’s 14% and Orange’s 12% but less than Wake’s salary supplement, which is around 17%.

“It’s tough everywhere,” Nash said. “And recruiting teachers isn’t easy.”


Herpel said her main concern is the turnover in the administrative and central office staff.

She told the board that nearly 70% of the district’s principals will have been at their schools for three years or less.

“I ask what are we doing to attract and retain excellent educators at all levels,” she said.

Nash said Herpel’s children happen to be in the only two schools losing principals this year.

“I think hers is a unique situation because she has a kid at each of the schools that are losing a principal this year,” Nash said. “Two out of 20 schools, what are the odds? And her assistant principal, who is beloved, is leaving too.”

The district had four openings for principals last year and six the year before that, Nash said.

“When we talk about principals right now, unless we get some more surprises that we’re not aware of, it looks like only two out of our 20 schools will have new principals when the school year starts,” he said.

Nash also pointed out that many of the new principals have years of experience in other districts.

“It is worth noting that many of our principals came from other schools where they were principals,” Nash said. “So they may be “new” to their current schools, but well-seasoned as principals. In fact, we don’t hire a lot of first-time principals in our district.”

Action points

“I’m all for change, new ideas and a wide range of voices,” Herpel told the school board. “But I am not a proponent of massive upheaval.”

Herpel began recommending action points, such as allowing a representative group of parents and staff to be part of the interview process, but she was not allowed to finish her suggestions.

“That’s appalling,” Herpel said. “We just lost our principal and our assistant principal, and you won’t even give me 15 more seconds.”

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Shelbi Polk reports on K-12 education in Durham and Orange Counties for the News & Observer. She attended Texas A&M University and followed the crowds to Raleigh in 2018.