Upstate SC school districts work together to find teachers
Several dozen school districts in the Upstate are pooling resources to recruit teachers.
The new marketing campaign, called Teach at the Top, was in the works before the pandemic exacerbated teacher shortages statewide. Now, the districts say it's even more critical.
The effort is a collaboration between the 23 Upstate school districts and three nonprofits. The hope is that they will be more successful working together than competing against each other.
It's modeled after a regional cooperation between local governments to promote the area to businesses. That effort, Ten at the Top, has shown that one of the biggest challenges is simply getting your name out there, said Ten at the Top's executive director, Dean Hybl. The biggest competition comes from other parts of the country, not neighbors.
"If there are people coming from other parts of the country that have an interest in moving to the region to work and live, that's a win for the whole region no matter where they end up," Hybl said.
The conversations that led to Teach at the Top started in 2015 when Ten at the Top organized a meeting between education leaders in the 10 Upstate counties. One of the biggest problems districts reported was teacher recruitment and staff shortages.
By 2019, the group made teacher recruitment a focus. They decided to create a digital marketing campaign with one centralized website that would promote the region as a whole and connect potential employees to information on jobs in each district.
"Instead of having 23 districts doing their own thing, can we try and centralize things and make it easier for folks to find their pathway into the classroom?" said Catherine Schumacher, head of Public Education Partners, an education nonprofit in Greenville that's helping lead the effort.
When the pandemic hit, the districts' teacher recruitment efforts were put on hold. Yet the teacher shortage issues only became worse.
Teacher vacancies at the start of the 2022-23 school year were the highest they've been since the Center for Educator Recruitment, Retention and Advancement began tracking in 2001. Vacancies this school year were up 39 percent compared to the previous year.
The group turned its efforts back to the website and marketing campaign and launched over the summer. Ten at the Top, Public Education Partners and the Upstate SC Alliance, a public/private economic development organization, provided seed money and districts were each asked to chip in.
They're marketing mostly out of state in places like Michigan, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania, as well as in neighboring Georgia and North Carolina. These states were picked because districts have had success recruiting there already, Schumacher said.
Getting everyone on board has been a process. Some districts were skeptical about whether the effort would benefit them. The group's initial worry that the largest districts, including Greenville, wouldn't be interested because they have the resources to aggressively recruit across the country.
But the larger school districts have been on board. The ones on the fence are mostly mid-sized districts, Schumacher said.
Some of the most enthusiastic districts have been smaller ones that don't have staff specifically dedicated to recruiting. In one district Schumacher talked to, the director of academics was also in charge of hiring.
Schumacher's plan is to run the marketing campaign for two years and see if it helps.
Dylan McCullough, a spokesman for Anderson School District 3, said his district sees definite benefits to being involved. There are five school districts in Anderson County, and administrators are used to facing friendly competition for teachers and staff.
McCullough emphasizes the friendly part, though. Over the years, the districts have found they have more luck working together to promote Anderson County as a whole.
"We're not trying to snag people from a neighboring district," McCullough said. "It's just trying to promote the teaching profession."
McCullough said his district is hopeful the effort will help attract candidates who might not have known about them otherwise. Someone interested in moving to the area might have only heard about Greenville.
But if a job isn't available there, maybe they will consider neighboring Anderson County.