Lowcountry school districts working to fill teacher, bus driver vacancies

CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) – Schools across the Lowcountry head back next week, and some districts are bracing for the impact of a nationwide teacher shortage as they work to fill dozens of vacancies.

Pam Juranas Zwolak and her daughter Alice are gearing up for the first day of first grade at Drayton Hall Elementary in West Ashley.

“We got a new bookbag,” Juranas Zwolak said.[The] school supplies list came out, so I had to go to five different stores to try and track everything down.”

Like Juranas Zwolak and parents and students, school districts are also preparing for the upcoming year, working to fill all their last open positions.

“[We’re] always at recruitment events,” William Briggman, the Chief Human Resources Officer for Charleston County Schools, said. “We have a team of teacher recruiters that spend their time cultivating, working with candidates, encouraging candidates to consider Charleston, marketing the schools they’ reassigned to.”

Ahead of the first day of school next Wednesday, Briggman says the Charleston County School District has 37 teacher vacancies out of about 3,700 total teachers on staff. This number of vacancies is larger than in previous years, he says.

“The last 15 years or so, we go into the first day of school with very few vacancies: fewer than 10 and as low as two or three or four, depending,” Briggman says. “But that was when there was a much more robust pipeline of educators looking for jobs. But in general, across the nation, every school district is feeling this pinch right now.”

The Berkeley County School District hired about 370 teachers but still has more than 100 teacher positions to fill, according to interim Chief Human Resources Officer Dr. Natasha Wright.

“When we say vacancy, I think people think no one’s going to be in that classroom,” Wright says. “We have people in the district who are covering. We’ve had principals take classes, we’ve got instructional coaches.”‘

The Georgetown County School District is going into the year with four teacher vacancies, although Doug Jenkins, the district’s Executive Director for Human Resources, says in the past few decades they have never had any.

“That being said, we do have contingency plans,” he says. “We have certified long-term subs that we can put into those positions until we are able to find the right one. Right now there is only one position for which we do not have a lead and that is the high school science teacher.”

As for those big, yellow buses you’ll see toting students around next week, the Charleston County School District has all their routes staffed, according to James Lynch, the district’s Executive Director of Student Transportation.

“We’re starting off with approximately 363 routes, and we anticipate having an equal amount of drivers to match that,” he says. “Ideally we’d love to have a 10 percent bench—so we’d love to be closer to 400 drivers—however we are happy to not start off with a deficit.”

The Director of Transportation for Berkeley County Schools says they’ve hired about 45 bus drivers and have about six openings left, which she says is much less than last year.

“We had, I believe it was 51 vacancies,” Tyra Ramsey says. “So now just having six, that’s pretty good.”

At the Georgetown County School District, they’re fully staffed with bus drivers to get students to class on time, according to Dr. Myrtle Brown Milton, the Executive Director for Support Staff Personnel and Employee Programs at the Georgetown County School District.

“We have every single driver filled and ready to roll on Aug. 15, so we’re good,” she says. “For the last several years, we have started our students with zero vacancies for bus drivers.”

Meanwhile, as the Juranas Zwolaks check off their back-to-school to-do list, they’re keeping their fingers crossed the school year goes smoothly—vacancies and all.

“I’m excited for her to get back and be around the kids again and be around that time and that energy,” Juranas Zwolak says.

Dorchester District 2, Dorchester District 4, Colleton County and Williamsburg County did not respond to repeated requests for interviews or information on vacancy numbers.

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