On Saturday, Feb. 23, in the cold and rain, Jeff Bearden, the Forsyth County Schools superintendent, drove around potential members of the school system’s workforce in a golf cart. So did Tom Cleveland, Darla Light, Wes McCall, Kristin Morrissey and Nancy Roche, the school system’s Board of Education members.
All morning the group escorted attendees from their cars to the entrance of South Forsyth High School for the school system’s certified educator job fair.
“It lends itself to some interesting stories,” said Dr. Cindy Salloum, associate superintendent of human resources and legal services with the school system. “Quite humorous often times.”
It’s a friendly gesture, to be sure, but also a part of an effort to portray Forsyth County Schools as a desirable place to work as school systems in Georgia and across the country grapple with teacher shortages.
The majority of states in the U.S. are experiencing teacher shortages, according to a study by the nonprofit education research organization Learning Policy Institute. The 2016 study estimated a shortage of 112,000 teachers by this year driven by a decline in the supply of new teachers, increasing student enrollments and high teacher attrition.
Forsyth County Schools hasn’t been immune to some of those forces. For example, the school system has seen a 215 percent increase in student enrollment since 2000, according to its website, with now more than 49,600 students among 39 schools. The school system plans to open four more schools by 2022.
Forsyth County Schools hasn’t felt the impact of teacher shortages to the same degree as other school districts, Salloum said. Indeed, on Saturday, the job fair had a healthy pool of candidates. Salloum said 685 prospective educators attended who sought to get in front of school administrators for 5-10 minutes. Salloum expects nearly half of the school system’s new hires next year will be from candidates who attended the job fair.
Forsyth County Schools hasn’t struggled to attract teachers in large part to its reputation, Salloum said. The school system was named the top public school district in the state last August, according to a study by Niche.com. Forsyth County Schools got high marks across the gamut: academics, administration, college prep, clubs and activities, health and safety, teachers and sports.
“[Candidates] make comments to us that make us believe that our reputation outside our county is allowing us to attract quality candidates,” Salloum said.
Still, the school system doesn’t take it for granted, Salloum said. It sends school officials to recruitment fairs at colleges in the Southeast and joined a consortium with other Georgia school systems to recruit in the Northeast. It also maintains an active recruiting campaign on social media platforms. This year’s campaign was branded as “Connecting Dreams to Success” and included a series of videos of several school system employees lauding it as an attractive place to work.
“We know that we are fortunate that people want to come work here,” Salloum said. “... We work very hard.”
That work doesn't stop after the hiring process, Salloum said. Keeping the school system's existing teachers is crucial too.
Attrition accounts for 95 percent of teacher demand, according to the Learning Policy Institute's 2016 study, and the major reasons for teacher turnover are lack of competitive wages, preparation, mentoring and teaching conditions, such as classroom resources, administrative support and professional development opportunities.
In addition, new teachers are more likely to leave within their first five years in the field, according to the Learning Policy Institute's study.
Salloum says Forsyth County Schools has worked hard to develop the kind of culture and work environment at all its schools to support teachers.
"Yes, we're getting bigger every day," Salloum said, "but we are still a close-knit community."