Sep. 6—Like many districts throughout the nation, the Aiken County Public School District is working to fill teacher and bus driver vacancies.
Jennifer Hart, chief officer of human resources and administration for the school district, said on the first day of school there were 58 classroom teaching vacancies, which was up from previous years. As of Sept. 1 that number has dropped under 30.
"Now all of those positions are covered," Hart said. "So we've made arrangements, so it's not that we have children that aren't being taught, all of the children are receiving instruction and proper supervision."
To cover these positions, the school district has made adjustments and has other positions, such as a reading interventionist or literacy coach, go into the classrooms while the school district is continuing to recruit teachers.
"In middle and high school...we worked with our content interventionists who support the entire district, as well as some of our coordinators who work in different specific capacities and worked with them to provide support...," Hart said. "For example we have one who is teaching English at Wagener-Salley High School because we had a critical shortage there.
"Other cases where we were able to identify qualified substitute teachers, they were providing the content and lesson planning in support for those long-term substitutes so that we're making the most out of the people that we have to ensure that quality instruction is still continuing in our classrooms while we continue to seek teachers."
When the school year began, Hart said the teacher vacancies were spread throughout the district. As of Sept. 1 there were only two classroom vacancies in elementary schools, with the rest being in middle and high schools.
"With the number of schools we have, when you see a big number it sounds like 'gracious, that's a lot of people,' but when you consider that we have 1,600 certified teachers, to still need 30 is a very small percentage," Hart said.
The school district is doing everything it can to find teachers. In February, the Aiken County Board of Education approved a sign-on bonus for newly hired teachers at specific schools and in certain subject areas, which Hart said are usually the more difficult positions to fill. Right now the specific locations are Wagener-Salley High School, A.L. Corbett Middle School, Busbee Elementary School, Ridge Spring-Monetta elementary, middle and high schools, Greendale Elementary School, and North Aiken Elementary School.
"That's where the location bonus came into play," Hart said. "Then we also have a content area bonus, so for science, math and special education. We're offering a $2,500 sign-on bonus in any of those areas, so if you're a science teacher and you go to Wagener-Salley you would get both the location and content area, so you would get a $5,000 sign-on bonus."
The sign-on bonuses have been effective, Hart said, noting that the district was able to fill over 150 positions because of that incentive, which is still being offered.
There is also a need for head start teachers and a $1,000 bonus is also being offered for those positions.
To fill the positions, the school district is working with different entities to find teachers, especially colleges and universities within a two-hour radius.
"Now we're thinking about today, but we're also thinking about our December graduates who often times complete all of the requirements even as early as November who may be able to start teaching as soon as they get that letter of completion from the university," Hart said.
With colleges and universities, Hart said the school district will possibly host a lunch and learn or attend recruitment events that the college is hosting, anything to stay active with them.
The school district is also thinking outside the box when it comes to recruiting teachers, which includes looking at those who are relocating to the area. This is done by working with the chamber and local Realtors to get the information out there that the school district is hiring. Hart added that the school district also works with people who might have a degree in a certain subject, but have been in another profession.
"There are several alternate pathways and we can work with those individuals to help them find the right pathway for them and help get them in the classroom as quickly as possible," Hart said.
Each year the school district holds a recruitment fair usually in the late winter or early spring, along with other hiring events for specific positions if needed, Hart said.
"We're talking about teachers today, but we have needs outside of teachers in special education aides, custodians and bus drivers," Hart said. "Often we'll hold a hiring event specific for that area where individuals can come in, interview that day, and oftentimes leave with an offer in the same day.
Bus driver shortage
In regards to bus drivers, the school district was short 36 drivers as of Aug. 31. Hart added they are hiring for full-time, part-time and as-needed drivers. The as-needed drivers work as fill-ins when regular drivers call out or there are vacancies.
"Even an individual who is interested, but can't work full-time can work intermittently, we can still use that person," Hart said. "We do provide training. We do provide the full CDL course here for bus drivers."
To ensure that students are still able to get home on the bus, Hart said it's an all hands on deck situation with drivers doing double and triple routes and transportation supervisors and secretaries driving routes.
"It's all hands on deck to make sure our students are transported safely and as timely as possible. Though we do understand there are delays with the shortage. If a bus driver is having to run multiple routes, then it does cause a delay, so a student may get home a little bit later than we would all love for them to get home. But the goal is for them to get home safely," Hart said.
The areas with the most bus driver vacancies include the Midland Valley, Wagener-Salley and Ridge Spring-Monetta areas, Hart said. She added the school district usually has a more difficult time in the Mossy Creek area in North Augusta.
The reason for this is because in Wagener-Salley the school district is competing with Lexington and in North Augusta the school district is competing with Richmond and Columbia counties in Georgia, Hart said.
To find bus drivers, the school district is offering a $1,000 sign-on bonus for full-time or part-time bus drivers. Hart said the as-needed bus driver positions do not qualify for a bonus.
Those interested in applying can either call the school district at 803-641-2428 and speak with Ashley Watson or visit the school district website and go to the employment tab to apply or see what positions are open.