LILLINGTON — Harnett County Schools, as recently as three years ago, lost nearly one in five teachers to attrition.
Teacher retention became a priority for the system and new statistics show the efforts have paid off.
Monica Thompson, HCS assistant superintendent of human resources, and a few of her staff on Monday presented the board of education with updated numbers showing a drastic decline in the teacher attrition rate from 18.9% in 2017 to 12.9% last year.
Administrators highlighted the system’s efforts in growing and retaining beginning and lateral entry educators, as well as the support system put in place to enhance their chances for success.
“Since 2017 our attrition rate has significantly improved,” Courtney Blackburn, an HCS recruitment and retention coach, told the school board. “We attribute some of that to all the work we’re doing with our beginning and lateral entry teachers all over the county in terms of working with them hands-on in the professional development that we’ve had the opportunity to offer them. We’re most proud of our beginning teacher and lateral entry attrition rates.”
HCS focused part of its recruitment efforts on student and alternative-licensed teachers, and making sure they had the tools needed to be successful in the classroom. The school system slashed its beginning teacher attrition rate nearly in half, dropping it from more than 30% three years ago to 16.5% in 2019. The lateral entry attrition rate fell more than nine points from 2017 to 22.4% last school year.
“We like to grow our own,” said Carol Blalock, HCS recruitment and attention coordinator. “That’s a way for us to grow our entire community is by reaching out to hire our folks who may have degrees in other areas or life experiences that can help them in the classroom. This has contributed to the fact our vacancy rates are so low and we are keeping them. We’re offering them all kinds of support.”
While the HCS teacher attrition rate is higher than the state average of 7.5%, Superintendent Dr. Aaron Fleming said the number actually is lower when taking into account military families who relocate from the area.
“I wish there was a category for individuals who leave school districts for the military,” Fleming said. “I think when you do that you will notice that our numbers are much closer to the state rate on attrition than where we’re at today. When that’s factored into the rate, we’re closer to 10%. We will always have that issue.”
Nearly 40% of teachers who left HCS went to another school system, but Blackburn said many also returned.
“The report also has recoupment rate, which means the number of teachers we’re getting back from other counties,” said Blackburn. “That was 44.2%. While we lost 38.9% to another district we gained 44.2% back. We looked at districts around us and our rate was higher than anyone else’s. We’re proud of that.”
Alternatively-licensed teachers provided a key resource for HCS and will continue playing a vital role for the school system moving forward.
“I want to be able to employ people here who may be able to teach,” Thompson said. “Out of our four rookies of the year this year, three were alternatively licensed. Administrators selected them. I always want to bring it home that there are many paths that lead to success in the teaching profession. I don’t want to ever belittle the work that is done by alternatively licensed teachers and the value they bring to our classrooms each and every day.”
HCS lost 167 out of 1,294 teachers in 2019.
Eliot Duke can be reached at email@example.com or at 910-230-2038.