By Stefanie Jackson – The Eastern Shore’s two public school systems combined have almost 20 teaching vacancies to fill with fewer than two weeks before students arrive Sept. 6.
The local issue mirrors a national trend as schools struggle to attract and retain teachers. Local officials, however, said schools will be ready.
“When we open our doors, our students will get the education that they deserve,” said Clara Chandler, Accomack schools’ director of human resources.
In Northampton and Accomack counties, higher salaries for starting teachers and international searches have helped recruiting efforts.
New Northampton Superintendent Jaime Cole hoped the two school systems would work together in the future to recruit teachers.
“It’s not north versus south,” she said. “It’s all of our kids.”
At press time Thursday, Accomack schools had 12 teaching positions left to fill, Chandler said. The county of 33,000 residents has 13 public schools with 427 teaching positions.
Accomack’s starting salary for teachers is around $45,000, and the school division is always applying for grants to recruit and retain teachers and help those teachers continue their education and obtain licensure, said Chandler.
The school division gives salary advances to help teachers relocate to the Shore.
The school division also uses the Eastern Shore’s attractive location between the beaches of the Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic Ocean as a selling point, Chandler added.
The teacher shortage in Accomack has been concentrated in the areas of English learners, special education, and math, and the school division has had much success recently filling those positions by recruiting internationally, from countries such as Colombia and the Philippines.
A dozen international teachers have been hired over the last two years; they are all experienced and eligible for licensure, Chandler said.
The teachers are interviewed virtually and, when hired, they obtain visas that allow them to work in the U.S. for up to five years.
Accomack schools are recruiting retired teachers through a Virginia Retirement System program. Some retirees are eligible to be full-time regular teachers, and others become long-term substitutes.
The school division also is taking a “grow your own” approach to recruitment through the Virginia Teachers for Tomorrow dual-enrollment course.
Accomack school representatives have attended 18 job fairs this year, both in-person and virtual and in and out of state, Chandler said.
She also has reached out on social media and ran an ad on the radio to attract career switchers — people who have a college education and want to take the additional steps required to become licensed teachers.
Northampton County has a population of more than 12,000 and a total of four public schools with 131 teaching positions.
Northampton schools had only seven K-12 teaching positions left to fill for the upcoming school year, Cole said.
The Northampton school division has done its research on which nearby states typically pay teachers less and is advertising its job openings in the local newspapers of its target areas.
Northampton pays a new teacher up to $50,000 in the first year: a $45,000 starting salary, a $2,500 bonus for remaining in the position through December, and another $2,500 bonus in the spring for signing a contract for the following school year.
Northampton also received a $100,000 grant from the Virginia Department of Education to help teachers with bachelor’s degrees earn their master’s degrees, giving them another boost up the salary scale.
About $36,000 of the grant has been spent, and Northampton is on track use the remaining funds by the September 2024 deadline.
Northampton also provides year-round professional development opportunities tailored to each teacher’s individual needs and has scheduled half school days for those professional development sessions.
Cole also has reached out to the nonprofit Teach for America as well as the Peace Corps for assistance recruiting teachers.