Dr. Jacqueline Jordan is the principal of Underwood Elementary in Wake County Public Schools System.
At a press conference in her school’s media center this afternoon, she put a face on the issues troubling teachers in North Carolina.
Two of her school’s teachers had their homes go into foreclosure. One teacher who moved here from California eleven years ago is still making $20,000 less in teachers’ pay than when she left that state.
Another teacher got a job with an insurance company in December. A teacher raising two daughters qualifies for food stops. And then there are the two teachers who have left to teach in other states, one in Texas, the other in Colorado.
“They have no hope of a salary that will allow them to live comfortably without the daily stress and strain and worry about paying for basic things,” Jordan said. “Not to live lavishly but to fulfill basic financial requirements.”
A fifth grade teacher at Underwood, Kelly Nystrom has a Master’s degree and has been teaching for eleven years. She is also leaving the profession.
“It’s been seven years since we’ve gotten raises,” Nystrom said. “After seven years of waiting and hoping that things were going to change in this state, they haven’t. I lost hope that I was going to be able to financially take care of my family on my own.”
The stories that Jordan and Nystrom tell reflect a wider trend statewide.
Dr. Michael Maher, the assistant dean for Professional Education and Accreditation at N.C. State University says he sees significantly fewer students enrolling in teacher training courses, and more of the students who do enroll move out of state to begin their careers.
This will inevitably cause staffing problems for schools as the pipeline of incoming teachers is drying up.
According to WCPSS statistics, more than 600 teachers have left their jobs since last year school year began in July, 2013.
The teacher turnover rate of 12 percent—low compared to other districts in the North Carolina—is expected to increase, prompting WCPSS Superintendent Jim Merrill to request funding a 3.5 percent pay increase for Wake teachers in a budget proposal submitted to the Wake County Board of Education and County Commissioners.
But everyone agrees that respect for teachers begins at a higher level.
“The greatest source of funding for teachers’ salaries and other benefits comes from the State,” a WCPSS memo reads. “Decisions to raise salaries, provide higher compensation for graduate degrees and restore career status are the responsibility of the N.C. General Assembly.”
Jordan says the future of the state “starts and ends with the teacher in the classroom.”
“Whether you have children or not, without great public schools, this state will suffer,” she said.