With a little over a week until traditional schools in the county resume, Wayne County Public Schools is exhausting every resource to fill 29 certified teacher vacancies, assistant superintendent of human resources, Dr. Yvette Smith Mason said.
The first day of classes for most schools is Monday, Aug. 28.
Three non-traditional schools, operating on the Wayne Community College schedule, started earlier this month -- Goldsboro High, Wayne School of Engineering and Wayne Early/Middle College High schools.
While the ideal would be to have zero openings, considering the school system employs more than 1,250 educators, 29 vacancies is encouraging, she said.
"It's a dance that we do throughout the summer. We have everything focused and then we don't. A vacancy will come available," Mason said Wednesday. "Most of the schools are looking at one to three vacancies, maybe, and I say that 'three' lightly.
"Many schools might have one, they have an English teacher or a kindergarten teacher (opening)."
The teacher shortage issue is not new, and not unique to Wayne County, she said. Likewise, the subject areas needed remain consistent.
"We're seeing across the board as a state, we're seeing the need for math teachers, that's our No. 1 area," she said. "Right behind that is our need for science teachers as well."
The next area of concern is in English/language arts, she said, followed by teachers of exceptional children, or EC.
"EC, we have right now, that's why I mention them last," she said. "We have done exceptionally well -- we have three vacancies for our EC area and that's phenomenal."
She credited principals and the EC department with getting the jump on the school year and filling those positions.
That will continue in the remaining days before students return, she said.
"There's always a backup plan," Mason said. "Our principals are still eagerly reaching out to substitutes that may be certified.
"We have some substitute that could move into the lateral entry position and we also have some teacher assistants that our principals are interviewing to possibly move into that teaching position."
Another options include teacher assistants with degrees or educators that may need additional classes to become certified.
And then there is the district's pool of "very active certified retired teacher substitutes."
"They have been in the trenches with us in Wayne County and are actively subbing with us," Mason said. "We are recruiting many of them to come in and take some of the math teacher positions.
"I do have one or two that will agree to take a first semester teaching assignment and then we are going to continue to recruit and utilize our resources to try to hire in those vacant positions."
There is an advantage to enlisting the retirees, she said, as they are familiar with the school system and how it operates.
Several are ready to step in and be in place until a full-time educator can be secured, she said.
With open houses looming Aug. 23 and 24, that is important, she noted.
"Those are our steps to ensure that a teacher will meet and greet every child open house night and be ready for school when we open school on Aug. 28, which is right around the corner."
In recent years, WCPS incorporated another means to actively recruit job candidates online, allowing posting to go up more quickly and broadening the coverage area. The district also continues to rely on international teachers.
"We have recruited 15 teachers (this year) from overseas as far as South America, Columbia, Venezuela and Hong Kong," she said, explaining, "They commit five years to teaching here in this country."
Potential hires also come in the form of student interns, also known as student teachers. Wayne County currently has 25 of those in the classrooms this fall, Mason said.
If all the requirements for their college are completed by December, she said, there is the possibility of inviting them to continue working in the school system, she said.
"We have utilized all resources to get to this number where we are at this year," she said, praising her staff, the district's leadership and principals for covering all bases. "I'm extremely proud of them.
"However, we always want to make sure every year we get to zero -- that's our goal -- so we start out that first day with no vacancies. That's very important to me."