08/26/12 — WCPS grads return as teachers

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WCPS grads return as teachers

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on August 26, 2012 1:50 AM

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Kathryn Rikard, a 2007 Rosewood High School graduate and teaching fellow, will be teaching eighth-grade language arts and social studies at Brogden Middle School. She is one of more than two dozen local high school graduates returning to the district this year as teachers.

Kathryn Rikard has many fond memories of tagging along with her mother, Gina Rikard, a teacher at Greenwood Middle School.

"My mom's been with Wayne County Schools for 21 years," Kathryn said. "Growing up, I always helped her in the classroom."

And so there was never any doubt that one day she would become a teacher, too.

The 2007 Rosewood High School graduate obtained her degree in middle grades from Appalachian State University in December 2011. As a N.C. Teaching Fellow, she can teach anywhere in the state for at least four years to have her scholarship loan forgiven.

She chose Wayne County Public Schools.

"It's definitely nice to be able to give back to the community that educated us," she says. "This is home for me and I do know a lot of the educators in the community."

Hallie Hulse also felt the hometown pull.

The 2008 graduate of Eastern Wayne High School received her degree in special and elementary education from UNC-Greensboro this past spring and was hired to work with a combined class of first- and second-graders at Edgewood Community Developmental School.

"I don't think I really had a choice to come back," she shrugged. "I can't imagine being anywhere else.

"It was important for me to at least start off here. I know people here. I'm really excited."

The trend is not uncommon.

Despite the ongoing teacher shortage and the looming first day of school Monday, district officials have had an "excellent response" to vacancies this year, said Debbie Durham, director of human resources and physical education.

"I do have a few openings due to people resigning at the last minute," she said. "Those openings come every day, but for the most part, those that we knew were going to be opening, have been filled. We're feeling really good right now about where we are."

The typical problem areas of exceptional children, math and science have also not been as problematic this year, she added.

"We have hired some lateral entry or college graduates (with other degrees), that are still highly qualified," Mrs. Durham said. "We make sure that they get all the training and support they need."

What has been most impressive, though, is the growing number of WCPS graduates returning to the fold.

"We do have fewer from out of state because, I think, we have teachers who have decided to come back home," she said. "I think it's a good thing and part of it could be the economy. I'm excited that they want to be here, that they want to come back home. I feel like we went for a little while, children wanted to stay away. Now we're cycling back to the time when children do want to come home. The younger ones are coming back."

Throughout August, orientation and training sessions were held for the newest educators. Summer Institute, a three-day workshop at Mount Olive College, kicked off the effort, followed by two weeks focusing on such topics as classroom procedures, discipline and district policies.

Out of the 70 attending orientation at Tommy's Road Elementary School, Mrs. Durham asked how many had graduated from WCPS -- 25 hands went up.

Some, like Ms. Rickard -- who will be teaching eighth-grade language arts and social studies at Brogden Middle School -- have parents already in the profession.

Dave Elmore, a 2006 graduate of Charles B. Aycock High School, just graduated from East Carolina University and will be a physical education teacher at Northwest Elementary School. His mother, Ronda, teaches at Norwayne Middle School.

Natalie Taylor, a 2007 graduate of Eastern Wayne High School and recent graduate with a degree in biology from N.C. State University, will teach physical science and biology at her former high school. Her lineage is unique, in that her father, Dr. Steve Taylor, is school superintendent and mom, Pam, is an art teacher at Eastern Wayne Elementary School.

"I don't want to disappoint them," she said. "And since I'm going back to the high school where I graduated, I don't want to let my teachers down."

Emily Jordan and Jason Buchtmann are also returning to their alma maters.

Ms. Jordan, a 2008 graduate of Charles B. Aycock High School, attended Barton College and will be teaching math.

Buchtmann graduated from Spring Creek High School in 2005, earning his degree in physical education from ECU in 2009, then his master's degree from Southeast Missouri State in December 2011. He was a substitute teacher last semester and will teach seventh-grade social studies at Spring Creek. He also is an assistant football coach.

"It's a lot of flashbacks," he said of being back at the school. "But it's good to work with some people that I got to know when I was in school there."

For the most part, the group said they felt prepared for the challenge and anxious to get started.

The advance summer training helped, though some already had a head start.

Austin Hood, a 2006 graduate of Southern Wayne High School, completed his degree at ECU in December 2011 and started with the district in February. He'll be teaching physical education at Eastern Wayne Elementary.

"I didn't feel that prepared in February," he admits. "Now that I have had a little more experience, I feel more prepared."

Debbie Bass was a teacher's assistant for seven years. A single mother of two daughters, the 1989 graduate of CBA took advantage of the Wells Fargo teaching program offered at Wayne Community College, finishing her degree in special education in June. She will be a resource teacher at North Drive Elementary School.

"I have always wanted to be a teacher -- having that child learn, seeing it click, especially if you're working with a child with a learning disability, or understanding a concept and watching that lightbulb moment," she said.

Walking into once-familiar hallways and adjusting to having former teachers as colleagues are just a few things the newest pool of teachers will face when the school bell signals the start of a new year.

"It's different coming back as an adult," Ms. Hulse said. "Now you're a professional, so you have to watch yourself when you're out and about, remember people are watching you and you're a role model for some people."

"It makes me feel good that the people that have helped me become successful can now help me be more successful," Ms. Jordan noted. "Just to be able to be comfortable and know that people are proud of you and you can continue to make them proud."