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As North Carolina sees increase in teacher attrition, what’s going on in Cumberland County schools? 

County’s teachers leave positions at third-highest rate in the state


After the State Board of Education learned earlier this month that North Carolina’s teacher attrition rate jumped 3.67% in a year, Cumberland County Schools officials — faced with the third-highest rate in the state — are looking at their own numbers and considering best practices to keep teachers in county schools.

In a report presented to the state board April 4, the N.C. Dept. of Public Instruction found that statewide, 11.45% of the state’s teachers left the profession between March 2022 and March 2023. These departures are referred to as attrition, which the DPI defines as “a reduction in the number of employees that occurs when employees leave an employing unit.” 

The department gathers data yearly on attrition rates around the state, compiling them into a report that must be presented to the General Assembly. Charter schools do not report attrition data to the state.

The majority of those attritions statewide were defined as being due to personal reasons, representing 48% of teacher losses in 2022-2023, the report states. 

The report categorized the following reasons as falling under “personal” reasons:

  • Resignation due to family responsibilities and/or childcare
  • Resignation to continue education or go on sabbatical
  • Resignation due to family relocation
  • Resignation to teach in another state
  • Dissatisfied with teaching
  • Resignation due to career change
  • Resignation due to health and/or a disability
  • Retirement with reduced benefits
  • Resignation of a re-employed retired teacher

The Sandhills region, which Cumberland County Schools belongs to, had a 12.58% attrition rate in 2022-2023.

As for the system itself, the Cumberland County Schools district had the third-highest attrition rate in the state for the 2022-2023 school year, according to the DPI’s report. From March 2022 to March 2023, out of 3,335 teachers, the district lost 511 teachers —  an attrition rate of 15.32%. The school system’s rate trailed only Halifax County Schools and Asheville City Schools, though it should be noted that Halifax County employs only 142 teachers, which contributed to its high attrition rate of 18.31%.

“In general, North Carolina teachers continue to remain teaching in the state and their respective LEAs [local education agencies], but the 2022-2023 report does indicate increases in both the attrition and mobility rates in North Carolina public schools,” the report concludes. 

According to the report, the data indicates great diversity in attrition rates throughout the state’s 115 local education agencies.

Mobility refers to an employee relocating from one agency to another within the state, the DPI says. 

According to the report, beginning teachers (defined as teachers with less than three years of experience) and highly experienced teachers have higher attrition rates. In experienced teachers, that can be attributed to retirements, but higher attrition rates in beginning teachers may indicate a lack of support and the need for policy changes, the report states.

“The question of whether the teachers that replace those teachers lost through attrition are as effective remains unanswered,” the report says.

Cumberland County Schools Associate Superintendent of Human Resources Ruben Reyes told CityView that many educators are facing difficulties that might tempt them to leave the profession.

“I think just overall, the field of education is struggling as a whole,” he said.

Statewide, North Carolina school systems are hiring at higher levels than teachers are leaving, according to the DPI. 

The state has averaged a 122.8% replenishment rate, referring to the number of new hires replacing departing teachers, over the past six school years, a DPI news release said. This means that more new educators were hired than the number of educators that departed.

The county’s numbers

According to the State of the Teaching Profession dashboard, in 2023, Cumberland County Schools had a 20.2% recoupment rate, a 4.5% mobility rate and a 19.9% LEA (local education agency) attrition rate. Recoupment means how many departing teachers were replaced, according to the DPI. 

Reyes told CityView that LEA attrition rate refers to the number of teachers lost to another agency, which could include agencies within North Carolina. It’s different from the state attrition rate, which looks only at teachers who left teaching in North Carolina entirely and doesn’t include teachers who moved from one North Carolina education agency to another, he said. 

This is why Cumberland County Schools’ state attrition rate is 15.32% but its local education agency attrition rate is 19.9%, indicating that more Cumberland County teachers are simply going to other agencies within the state than are leaving the profession entirely.

The county has significantly increased its recoupment rate. The state dashboard shows Cumberland County Schools had a 2.8% recoupment rate in 2022 — just under an 18% increase. This means that the school system is doing a better job at hiring educators to fill vacancies created by those who have left. Meanwhile, mobility and LEA attrition have been on the rise, the data shows.

The school system’s vacancy rate has also slightly increased, according to the dashboard. In 2022, the school system had a 2.9% vacancy rate, while in 2023, it reported a 3.1% vacancy rate. The majority of those vacancies were in core subjects (math, English/language arts, social sciences and STEM) and Exceptional Children programs.

Last year, the majority of Cumberland County teachers reported leaving for “other” reasons at 36.8%, while 33.9% of departing teachers said they left for personal reasons. Other reasons, the dashboard shows, included dismissal by the school system at 15.9% of attritions and reasons beyond the school system’s control at 13.5% of attritions.

What’s going on?

Reyes told CityView that many different factors impact teacher attrition, but one area of note is the shift in how people enter the teaching profession. 

In years past, Reyes said, teachers would generally go to a four-year school to obtain a degree in elementary education or secondary education. Now, more teachers take “nontraditional” routes. 

“A lot of these folks are folks that are coming into the teaching profession from other backgrounds,” he said. “There used to be more folks that came into the profession with a lot of training and pedagogy and all the stuff that you need coming out of school, versus now they’re coming in and they’re teaching, but they’re also learning to teach all at the same time.” 

For educators enrolled in residential programs, many must juggle night classes or online classes in addition to their full teaching workload, which can be a mental and financial burden, Reyes said. 

“I think it contributes to some burnout,” he said. “I hear from teachers in our district who are going the residency route, and they say that that does impact them negatively.” 

According to Reyes, the district’s strategies to slow the rate include:

  • Providing a $2,000 sign-on bonus to new hires
  • Hosting an annual teacher job fair at Gray’s Creek High School on April 27 from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. 
  • Providing retention bonuses to teachers who stay on, which range from $300 to $2,100 depending on length of employment 
  • Working with school administrators to ensure teachers are not overwhelmed by planning school activities carefully and keeping teachers’ workloads in mind
  • Investing in programs that offer support to beginning teachers

Because of its proximity to Fort Liberty, Cumberland County Schools does see higher rates of teachers leaving because of military-ordered relocations, Reyes said. However, prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, the district had maintained a steady, low attrition rate, he noted. 

Reyes said he thinks the district has done a good job of replenishing lost positions. 

“We’re really focused on not only recruitment, but also retention and helping those teachers that we have to grow and develop their skill set so they’re able to meet the needs of our students on a day-to-day basis,” he said.

Reporter Lexi Solomon can be reached at lsolomon@cityviewnc.com or 910-423-6500.

This story was made possible by contributions to CityView News Fund, a 501c3 charitable organization committed to an informed democracy.

Cumberland County Schools, teacher attrition, NCDPI, education