A newly formed Orangeburg County Chamber of Commerce committee will focus on public teacher recruitment and retention.
The committee was created through the Chamber's Main Street Business Town Hall meeting on Sept. 26. S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster was in attendance at the session held at Orangeburg Country Club.
"It was very inspiring and open-minded meeting," Chamber President President Melinda Jackson said.
One of the topics was related to shortages in light of the number of teachers retiring from public schools.
Through the encouragement of the governor's office, the chamber, along with the grassroots organization One Orangeburg County, will put together a small group to discuss multifaceted educational issues facing the county with a special focus on attracting teachers.
The advisory committee will consist of less than 10 members and will address issues from elementary school through college.
South Carolina State University, Claflin University, Orangeburg-Calhoun Technical College and Southern Methodist College will also be a part of the discussion.
Jackson said the chamber feels a focus of local discussions needs to be teacher recruitment and retention.
"We want to make sure we offer the support to our local colleges to provide the best curriculum and to meet whatever their needs are," Jackson said.
Jackson said the committee will also focus on teacher pay in rural areas.
"We need to see teacher pay more competitive than in the metro areas," she said. "We will look at the impact of attaining teachers in rural areas. One solution is looking at teacher pay scale."
Ideas developed through the advisory committee will be brought to the governor's office for review and further discussion.
Orangeburg Consolidated School District 4 Superintendent Dr. Tim Newman, who currently chairs the One Orangeburg County education committee and will serve as the head of the education advisory committee, could not be reached for comment.
Superintendents for Consolidated School District 3 and 5 could also not be reached for comment.
Teacher shortages and recruitment are not just challenges facing Orangeburg County.
According to the state's Center for Educator Recruitment, Retention and Advancement, about 6,500 public school teachers statewide didn't return to their classroom last year, while the number of college students graduating with an education degree shrunk to fewer than 1,900.
Of the 6,500 teachers, more than 1,640 took a teaching job in a different South Carolina district, leaving more than 4,800 teachers this year who quit teaching altogether.
A continuing problem is that teachers don’t want to stay in their jobs.
Of the teachers who did not return for the 2016-17 school year, 38 percent left within their first five years of teaching, and 12 percent left after one year or less in the classroom, according to the CERRA.
Looking only at first-year, newly hired teachers, 28 percent hired for the 2015-16 school year did not return to the same position the following year. And 22 percent neither returned to the same position nor moved to a teaching position in any other South Carolina public school district, according to CERRA.
Teacher pay is often cited as one of the reasons for teacher shortages.
A 2015 study by the National Education Association ranked South Carolina No. 37 among the states for average teacher salary at $48,430.
In an effort to address the issue, the state has formed a teacher-recruitment panel made up of educators, legislators and state officials.
On the higher education front, OCtech President Dr. Walt Tobin, who participated in the governor's visit, said the college has not had a difficult time retaining teachers, but it has had a difficult time finding teachers for professions like nursing, health science and manufacturing.
"We are competing against folks in the industry for those faculty members," he said, noting teachers of nursing need to have a master's degree to be in line with four-year institutions. "We have been lucky in that regard. We have grown our own faculty."
"A lot of nursing grads with advanced degrees have expressed interest in teaching," Tobin said, noting they have also expressed an interest in specifically teaching at OCtech.
Tobin said faculty and staff at OCtech tend to remain at the college for a number of years, but he says just last year the college had three long-term nursing faculty to retire.
"That was a big hit for us," he said. "It was a challenge to them. We were worried about filling those responsibilities."
He said the college was successful in doing so.
In an effort to keep faculty, Tobin said the college encourages teachers to expand their horizons and will help pay for faculty to go back to school to help them advance professionally.
One example is OCtech's relationship with Columbia College, where faculty can take evening or online classes to earn a baccalaureate degree.
As for sparking interest in students to pursue a teaching degree, Tobin said the college has a teacher cadet program that exposes high school students to teaching careers.
The students are then encouraged to transfer to OCtech, where they can spend two years and then transfer to South Carolina State, Claflin or USC for a four-year teacher-education program.
"We have a couple of success stories of people coming to us and going on to get a master's and Ph.D in education," he said.
Tobin says locally the task of the advisory committee should be to look at increasing teacher salaries and to provide a loan-forgiveness program for teachers in low-performing or rural schools.
"In some way we need to expand loan-forgiveness programs," he said.
Overall, Tobin says it is a matter of a community "growing your own" teachers by "making teaching attractive to young adults."
He says there is also an opportunity to tap into those individuals who have started a career and want later to change into teaching.
"Teaching is a noble profession and has particular value in a rural community where education is the pathway out of poverty and provides the opportunity to live the American dream," he said.