Weaver encourages task force to ‘think big, think bold’ to address SC teacher shortage

The shortage is at an all-time high, with more than 1,400 unfilled jobs statewide at the beginning of the school year.
Published: Jan. 3, 2023 at 9:25 PM EST|Updated: Jan. 3, 2023 at 9:36 PM EST
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCSC) - South Carolina’s incoming superintendent of education says turning around the state’s worsening teacher shortage is going to require big and bold ideas.

That was Republican Ellen Weaver’s message Tuesday to a task force formed to recommend what South Carolina should do to boost educator recruitment and retention.

The shortage is at an all-time high, with more than 1,400 unfilled jobs statewide at the beginning of the school year.

While the shortage has been rising for the last several years, Weaver said the issue is more pressing than ever, as schools try to help their students recover pandemic learning loss.

“The only way we are going to ameliorate that for our students is if we figure out how to support a high-quality teacher, well-paid teacher in every classroom in this state,” Weaver said.

As the task force studies South Carolina’s teacher shortage, holding its second meeting Tuesday in Columbia, Weaver encouraged them to focus on two areas.

The first is the power of mentorships and apprenticeships in teacher recruitment and retention, and the second is the role of school leaders, like principals, in this work.

“Please, as you do your work, think big, think bold,” Weaver said. “The way that we have been preparing teachers, the way that we have structured our system may have worked 100 years ago, but it’s not sufficient for the realities of today.”

The task force will make its formal recommendations to lawmakers and the governor by May.

Sen. Greg Hembree, R – Horry and the chair of the Senate Education Committee, said they will be closely watching those recommendations to shape potential legislation.

“It obviously feels like this topic has reached critical mass. We know it’s an essential step that we take to try to improve in this recruitment and retention effort. I do expect we’ll be filing legislation, but I think we’ll be seeing some of this work bear fruit in the General Assembly this year,” Hembree said.

The state legislature has taken steps in recent years designed to keep more teachers in the classroom.

That includes raising the statewide minimum salary to $40,000 this year and ensuring many teachers are guaranteed a daily half-hour break starting next year.

“If we just keep doing what we’re doing and hopefully it gets better or just throw a little more money at it, it’s not going to work. It hasn’t work. We’ve increased the salary by 33% in five years, and we’ve had more teachers leave,” Hembree said, while adding that will not preclude the General Assembly from potentially raising the starting salary again in future years.

Task force members include current teachers, school administrators, and lawmakers.

Its chair, former state superintendent Barbara Nielsen, said she is confident Weaver will work with them to tackle this issue.

“We have everybody in the same room, talking with each other,” Nielsen said, noting they plan to meet once a month moving forward.

Weaver will be sworn in as state superintendent Jan. 11 at the State House.

She told the task force she will be in “listen and learn mode” for the start of her tenure, especially as she awaits its recommendations to address the shortage.