We are already in the last full month of school and the final day for students (June 12, an early release day) is fast approaching. This has me thinking about the things I have learned and experienced during my first year with you and I want to share a few impressions that stand out.
- This isn’t an especially original observation, but we really do have excellent schools. We have a remarkable number of outstanding teachers, truly wonderful support staff, and school leaders who appreciate the work of the people on their team. People who work here want to work here and many others want to join us. And while it would not be honest to say we don’t have any behavior problems in our schools, we are blessed with students who are more respectful, more polite, and overall better behaved than in most school systems. This is a tribute to the families in Watauga County and it is a key factor in the positive climate of our schools.
- We enjoy terrific community support. Parents and families, businesses and nonprofit organizations, the faith community, ASU and CCC&TI, the Watauga Education Foundation, the local Chambers of Commerce, our county commissioners and civic groups are all involved and engaged in supporting our students and helping them succeed. This support is valuable both for its tangible benefits and for the message it conveys, a message that says our young people and their education are priorities in Watauga County.
- People here really love their schools. Schools are not just buildings where kids spend a good part of the day with responsible adults. They are places of connection and relationships, of growth and learning, of caring and commitment. They are at the heart of this community, and people know and appreciate how essential they are to knitting us together with a common purpose.
We are fortunate and successful in many ways, but we cannot afford to be complacent. With Teacher Appreciation Week fresh in our minds, I want to give special attention to our teacher workforce as the factor that is currently our greatest strength and may become our greatest challenge. As mentioned earlier, we have many extremely high quality teachers, and for most openings we can still choose from among a pool of excellent candidates. However, we face a serious concern going forward.
It’s already difficult to find candidates for some positions, and the pipeline of new teachers is shrinking at a time when a growing portion of our workforce is eligible for retirement. The number of high school students expressing interest in teaching and the number of college students majoring in education have both dropped significantly in recent years. This is an issue that will have to be addressed much more aggressively at the state level, and it’s going to cost money to do it. People don’t go into teaching to get rich, but they do have a right to expect a fair salary and the prospect of greater rewards as they gain experience, increase their skills, and perhaps take on more responsibilities as mentors and leaders among their colleagues.
A career path in achievement and compensation is part of what it means to be in a profession. There’s no profession more important than teaching and we should do more to reflect its importance in how teachers are paid and valued in N.C. It will not be cheap, but excellence seldom is. The most expensive teacher would be an unqualified one hired in desperation to fill an open position. We cannot afford to let that happen.
In closing, I want to say again how pleased I am to be part of this excellent school system. I look forward to continuing to work alongside you to make it even better in the years ahead.