DARLINGTON COUNTY, S.C. (WBTW) — The Darlington County School District has the worst school in the state for teacher turnover, according to data from the South Carolina Department of Education.
However, it also has one of the best.
Most districts within News13’s coverage area — which includes Darlington, Dillon, Florence, Horry, Marion and Marlboro counties in South Carolina — have teacher turnover levels higher than the state average, according to data from the South Carolina Department of Education.
Schools with lower retention rates tend to also have higher poverty rates, while specialized schools appear to keep teachers longer.
Darlington — two schools, different results
Washington Street Elementary School in the Darlington County School District had a three-year average teacher turnover rate of 62.3%, according to a list of critical need geographic areas for the 2020-21 school year. It is listed as the school in the state with the highest teacher turnover rate over three years, at about 7 percentage points above the second-worst school on the list.
The school, along with West Hartsville Elementary School, were closed and consolidated into the new Bay Road Elementary School, which opened this academic year after Darlington County voters approved a 2016 referendum to build three new schools and close six aging ones.
Based on early intent forms, the consolidated school will have a 100% teacher retention rate going into next year, according to Audrey Childers, the public information officer for the Darlington County School District.
Childers pointed to multiple efforts to recruit and retain teachers, which include starting first-time teachers off at $39,000 a year, giving new teachers a $1,000 signing bonus, giving teachers in critical-need subjects an additional $1,000 bonus and the district board of education awarded full-time employees another $1,000. There are also scholarship opportunities available.
Childers said that the district’s pay is among the state’s highest, and is the top in the Pee Dee area.
“The Darlington County School District (DCSD) values our teachers,” Childers said in a written statement to News13. “We strive to create an environment that supports our teachers and recognizes their efforts.”
As a whole, the district has an 11.2% three-year turnover rate, according to 2021 data from the South Carolina Department of Education. The state’s rate is 7.3%.
The district’s Mayo High School for Math, Science and Technology was the 8th best in the state, with a 3.3% three-year average teacher turnover rate.
Childers said the district currently has no teacher vacancies and is expected to have a 97% teacher retention rate this year. It retains 96% of its first-year teachers, according to Childers.
The state’s turnover rates are based on the number of educators who didn’t return to teach in the same district the following year. The statewide turnover rate includes teachers who both left the state and moved to a non-teaching job within South Carolina.
Horry County Schools lost 6.3% of its teachers in 2019-20, compared to the state rate of 7.3%, and ranked as one of the best districts for retention during the last academic year.
Florence School District 4, which will consolidate with Florence School District 1 starting in 2022, had a teacher turnover rate of 27.5%. Florence School District 4 had a 39.2% teacher turnover rate in 2018-19.
Florence School District 5 had the lowest turnover rate in the area, at 3.8%. That rate was 9.9% in 2018-19.
A handful of area schools were marked as having the highest three-year teacher turnover rate in the state, including Brockington Elementary School in Florence County School District 4, which had a 53.5% turnover rate and was listed as the third-worst statewide. Also ranked high on the list is the Dr. Ronald E. McNair School of Digital Communication and Leadership in Florence School District Three, which lost an average of 48.6% of teachers, and Johnakin Middle School in Marion County School District, which lost 44.6%.
All four of those schools are ranked above 89 on the poverty index and qualify as a critical need geographic area for the state’s teacher loan program.
Among the best schools in South Carolina for teacher retention are Ocean Bay Elementary School in Horry County Schools, which ranked 18th on the list with a 4.5% turnover rate, and Royall Elementary School in Florence School District 1, with a 4.6% turnover rate.
Horry’s Retention Efforts
Most districts use some form of measure to uncover why they lose a teacher, but reasons can stay unknown if an educator notes that it’s for a “personal/family” reason when they actually left because of a school administrator or a heavy workload, according to 2020 data about South Carolina from the Center for Educator Recruitment, Retention, & Advancement.
The report notes that the state’s personnel directors said that “building relationships” is the best way to retain teachers.
“Also, the role of school-level administrators is essential in creating a culture that fosters the importance of relationships,” the report reads.
For Horry County Schools, providing supportive relationships for new teachers has been seen as key.
“I can tell you that salary is not the biggest reason why teachers leave the profession and make a change, it is because of lack of support,” said Mary Anderson, the district’s chief human resources officer.
Anderson said that if the district can keep a teacher for a handful of years, it’s likely they’ll stay long-term. Keeping those employees, she said, gives the district the opportunity to build on its investment on who it saw as the best candidate, along with providing consistency in a school.
“It also helps in that the teacher knows the school, they also know the students, they know the families,” she said.
Each new teacher is assigned a mentor during their first year in the classroom. Anderson said schools also have on-site instructional coaches to provide support.
This academic year’s group of new teachers has entered the classroom without the typical amount of required student teaching due to the COVID-19’s pandemic on educational systems. However, Anderson said that teachers have had Fridays to work on professional development while students weren’t in physical classrooms. That dedicated day, she said, has provided extra help.
She said that Ocean Bay Elementary School may have had such a high retention rate because it is a relatively new school, that most of its teachers chose specifically to work there and because it has a supportive administrative team.
Horry County Schools doesn’t have plans to introduce new retention initiatives, but will continue to tweak current measures.
“We always evaluate to see if we need to change things that we are currently doing, so that is a yearly process that we look at,” Anderson said.
How to Keep Teachers
One thing educator-led advocacy group SC for Ed would like to see is a salary raise for both educators and other staff, according to Cori Canada, an Horry County School representative for the organization.
She said that raising pay for classified employees — which include cafeteria workers, custodians and bus drivers — will keep staff that are essential for a school to run and have already developed deep connections with a school community.
“We are losing them just as quickly as we are teachers, because their workload is extensive and they make pennies,” Canada said. “So when a teacher, or when a classified employee can go to Costco and make more and not have the stress, that’s what they’re going to do.”
She said keeping those classified employees, like classroom aids, also helps take stress off teachers.
“Teachers can’t do all of those jobs, and those people deserve to be paid for all the amazing work that they actually do,” Canada said.
She said the organization wants the state to implement a 2% raise, plus step increases, along with increase substitute pay so that teachers don’t have to pull double duty. With some educators working second or even third jobs, she said they can’t focus on what’s really important.
With declining enrollment in education programs in colleges, and new teachers getting overwhelmed and leaving the profession, she said it’s crucial for state leaders to listen to teachers and give them more autonomy in the classroom.
“We are the professionals,” she said. “We know what these children need in order to get to the next grade level, but they continually want to make us test and test and test, and it is taking up all of our teaching time.”
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