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Charlotte panel discusses ‘urgent’ teacher pipeline need

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Superintendent Ann Clark has a new recruiting strategy — asking community members to lure teachers they know to move to Charlotte.

“Everyone in this room touches 100 people a day, minimum. Those people touch another hundred. Somewhere in there, there’s an outstanding teacher who we can convince to come to CMS,” she said.

Clark said her pitch, to a crowd of about 60 people at a community forum last week, is necessary because of North Carolina’s teacher pipeline squeeze.

“It is the only way that we’re going to fight some of the odds that are against us.”

The event, sponsored by MeckEd and the Public School Forum of North Carolina, highlighted concerns about experienced teachers leaving the profession, as well as a shortage of prospective teachers at universities across the state.

In 2013, 13,557 teachers left the profession or took teaching jobs outside of the state’s public schools. That equates to about 14 percent of all public school teachers.

“Every time one of those teachers leaves, that’s another teacher that needs to be hired — and that doesn’t include enrollment growth,” said Keith Poston, president of the Public School Forum.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools’ teacher turnover rate was 15.1 percent last school year, up from 11.7 percent in 2009-10. Compounding the problem is a drop in enrollment at public university education programs. Appalachian State University has experienced a 23 percent drop in enrollment in its bachelor’s degree program from 2008 to 2013; enrollment at UNC Greensboro is off 23 percent.

“The recruitment game has changed tremendously in education,” said Chance Lewis, a professor at UNC Charlotte who studies teacher retention and staffing trends. “We have to be much more strategic than we used to.”

More than pay

The panelists said that, although salary is important, other factors matter to teachers, too. “It gets a lot of attention in the media and it should,” Poston said. “It’s not just about the base salary, but also the respect and the working conditions, the support they receive.”

Poston said teachers often pay for classroom materials out of their own pockets, something that would never happen in the corporate world. “I can guarantee you that there’s not a single professional in this building who has to go out and buy their own office supplies.”

Desmond Blackett, who teaches business and entrepreneurship classes at a CMS high school, said there are often differences between grade levels or academic areas in a school. For example, his program receives technology support and supplies from local businesses, while others do not.

The panelists said intangibles are also important.

“People need to have hope,” said Bill Anderson, executive director of MeckEd. “They need to have hope that when they work hard, they’re going to be rewarded for it.”

Indeed, Clark said CMS learned this first hand through its Project LIFT initiative. The district created teacher leadership positions that offer a significant salary boost to educators willing to take on more responsibility. CMS had 22 positions and received more than 600 applications from across the country.

“We need to create pathways for teachers to see ways that they can remain in the classroom, be compensated appropriately, and take on additional responsibilities,” Clark said. “Money does matter, but so does a pathway.”

Now, CMS uses that program as a recruitment and retention tool.

A “dire” conversation

Clark brought the entire CMS recruitment team — something that didn’t exist until three years ago, she said — to the event to signal the urgency of the teacher pipeline challenge. “Ten years ago, CMS could have recruited from any part of this country,” she said. “We can no longer do that.”

Clark said CMS is grateful for the General Assembly’s investment in teacher salaries last year, but stressed the need to do more. “We need to applaud what’s happening in the General Assembly, moving our base pay from 31 to 35. That is not insignificant. But if we in any way think we are done, we are not.”

She urged the audience to take action — from personally recruiting teachers to urging legislators to support increases in teacher salaries — to seal the cracks in the teacher pipeline.

“If we leave here thinking we have no influence, then we’re back here a year from now having a conversation that’s even more dire.”

Click here to view slides from the event.

Adam Rhew

Adam Rhew attended Beverly Woods Elementary, Carmel Middle, and South Mecklenburg High schools, all part of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools. He earned a journalism and political science degree from UNC-Chapel Hill. He is a contributor to Southern Living, Charlotte magazine, and SBNation Longform, among other publications. Previously, Adam was an award-winning television and radio news reporter, with stops at stations in Chapel Hill, N.C., Charlottesville and Richmond, Va., and Charlotte, N.C.