First-year teacher Charlotte Squires arrived in Onslow County two weeks ago, ready to start her career in education in a new home in a new state and at her first school.
“I’m just super excited to be here and ready to get started,” said Squires, who will be teaching fourth and fifth graders in the exceptional children’s program at Queens Creek Elementary School in Swansboro.
Squires is one of the 120 first-year teachers beginning their careers with the school district.
She comes to Onslow County from Michigan, where she graduated from Siena Heights University with a double major in special education and elementary education.
Squires had never been to this area but heard about Onslow County Schools from her former dance/cheer coach, who is from Eastern North Carolina.
“I was tired of the Michigan winters and wanted to go somewhere warm and she said look at Onslow County Schools,” Squires said.
Squires said she emailed every principal in the county and Queens Creek Principal Elaine Justice was the first to reply and they had an interview scheduled via Skype within 48 hours.
“After that Skype interview, everything just felt right,” Squires said as she and other Queen Creek teachers prepared for the start of a new school year. The first day of class for students is Aug. 29.
That first connection between Justice and Squires was in April.
Onslow County Schools Associate Superintendent for Human Resources/Student Services Barry Collins said the school district has traditionally started hiring employees in June but this year began hiring in April to get a head start on recruitment efforts.
“This year we started in April and that had a positive impact of about 30 teachers that we gained,” Collins said.
Since April, the school district has hired 340 teachers, with 100 of those working the end of the last school year and being re-hired for this year.
The remaining 240 teachers hired are new to Onslow County Schools and about half of those are first-year teachers new to the profession.
Collins said they are also seeing a change in the way they are connecting with potential teachers.
The annual job fair held by the school district has been a staple in its recruitment efforts but they are seeing fewer job candidates attending the event.
“This past year we only had around 250 candidates who showed up for our face-to-face job fair and that is way down from two or three years ago when we had as many as 600 to 700 showing up,” Collins said.
Collins said in the age of the Internet, there’s a new generation that’s using social media, websites, Skype and many other platforms to find jobs and connect with their potential employers.
Collins said there may be fewer teaching candidates but those who are, are doing so using technology and platforms beyond the traditional job fairs.
“I think the number of candidates is down but I also think candidates are utilizing online job fairs and social media. I think they are getting information in a whole different way. I think it’s just a sign of the times,” Collins said.
As a pilot, Onslow County Schools tried an online job fair this year and Collins said it worked well.
The online job fair is like a live chat room where candidates can talk with potential employers and leave contact information with principals and schools officials they are interested in connecting with.
Collins said they recruit teachers primarily in North Carolina, with many of their first-year teachers coming from East Carolina University and UNC-Wilmington.
However, Collins said reports have shown that from 2008 to now there has been a 30 percent decrease in the number of students within the state’s university system entering the teaching profession.
“That’s a big concern for us,” Collins said.
Collins said the school system is growing by about 300 students a year and will need more rather than less teachers.
Collins said the teacher pay increase that was approved by the state will help in recruiting new teachers though it doesn’t change much for veteran teachers with 15 or more years of experience.
Onslow County also provides a 10 percent local pay supplement for certified employees, which helps to recruit and retain teachers.
Collins said that Onslow County is unique because of its transient military population. While the movement of teachers in and out of the school systems tends to even out, Collins said the biggest hit to the school district is the cost of the training required for each new teacher joining the school district.
Collins said it costs about $7,000 a teacher over the course of their first three years to fully complete training. First-year teachers in North Carolina go through a Beginner Teacher Program that includes assignment of a local mentor.