The Wilkes County School District is starting the new school year with about 86 new teachers and other certified personnel.

This includes 76 positions already filled and 10 advertised vacancies, said Dr. Westley Wood, assistant school superintendent, personnel and human resources.

Classes began Tuesday at the Wilkes Early College High School and start Aug. 26 at the other 22 Wilkes schools.

Wood said the Wilkes school district typically has 60-90 teachers and other certified staff new to the district at the start of each school year, including late hires from the prior school year.

The Wilkes schools had 81 new hires in certified positions at the start of the 2018-19 school year.

Wood said this has been a successful year for recruiting teachers for Wilkes schools, largely due to internships and student teacher placements here through partnerships with Appalachian State University and other universities and colleges.

Wilkes schools typically have over 200 interns and student teachers per year.

“The principals and teachers of Wilkes County Schools work hard to provide college students with valuable and successful learning experiences, promoting the Wilkes County Schools’ culture of excellence,” said Wood.

“These college students are eager to be a part of a successful school district when seeking employment.”

Wood said there has been a noticeable increase in applicants for certified teaching positions in the Wilkes schools, largely due to more applying for jobs as exceptional children teachers and middle school and secondary math/science teachers.

Wood said there also was a major increase in applications for office professional positions such as administrative assistants, data managers and receptionists, with over 100 applications per vacancy in many instances.

Among this year’s new hires in teaching and other certified positions, 27% are exceptional children teachers, 22% in middle schools, 16% in high schools, 14% in elementary schools, 6% in exceptional children support and 3% in career technical education.

Ten local vacancies in teacher and other certified positions are being advertised, including three in elementary schools, five exceptional children support positions, one in a middle school and one instruction support position.

Bus drivers and tutors, both part-time positions, account for most of the 13 unfilled non-certified jobs in the Wilkes schools.

Once all positions are filled, the Wilkes schools will employ 700 teachers and other certified licensed personnel.

Wood said about 46% of this year’s new Wilkes teachers will participate in the Beginning Teacher Program, which means they will be in year one, two or three of their teaching careers.

About 46% of the teachers hired for the 2019-20 school year are from Wilkes, which Wood said is a normal percentage.

Among new teachers and other new certified staff, 14% are from Yadkin County, 14% from Surry County, and the remainder from Iredell, Watauga, Avery, Forsyth, Franklin and Rowan counties. About 6% are from out of state.

A school district’s location can make it hard to fill teaching positions, but Wood said this hasn’t been a major issue for the Wilkes schools due to Wilkes County’s many attributes.

He noted Wilkes County’s proximity to more urban areas such as Hickory, Winston-Salem and Charlotte and the university town of Boone. Wilkes offers the attractions of a suburban area, small town living and many outdoor related activities, he added.

“Location is becoming an issue for many districts in rural areas of North Carolina with declining population. Graduates are moving away and not returning to their hometowns due to the lack of job opportunities, lack of updated affordable housing, restaurants and activities,” he said.

Wood said the biggest challenge facing the Wilkes and other districts across the state is the reduced number of college graduates. There aren’t enough graduates each year to fill the vacancies in school districts across the state.

He said another challenge for the Wilkes and other school districts is employee longevity.

“Years ago, it was common for a teacher to work in the same district for 30 or more years. That is becoming rare. Today’s graduates are more transit, meaning that they desire to have new experiences and therefore move to different areas of the state throughout their career.”

Wood said he expects it to become harder to fill teaching positions in upcoming years.

“Northwest North Carolina school districts are beginning to experience the challenges of hiring that many districts outside our area have experienced for many years,” he said.

Wood also noted that according to area universities, enrollment in education programs is increasing again. “This is positive news, but it may be a few years before the increase in graduates is noticed by surrounding school districts,” he said.

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