One school, many principals: how this rural school district is coping with staff shortages


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TThe good news arrived the day after Sophelia McMannen’s birthday. After 20 years as an educator, she was offered a principal position at Vaughan Elementary School in Warren County.

She made the leap into teaching when two years of work in the commercial office of a medical center did not come to fruition. At this new school near her old neighborhood and with a similar student population, she felt ready to take that new leap.

Then she immediately got worried.

“Will my neighborhood hold me back?” She wondered.

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Due to a clause in her contract in her old district, she was unable to start her new position for two months while her previous school searched for a replacement.

Students and staff at Vaughan Elementary, a small rural Title 1 school in northeastern North Carolina, are set to start a new school year without a principal – just one example of how the teacher shortage is playing out in the field.

When Dr Keedra Whitaker, director of human resources for Warren County Schools, learned that the school would have to wait for its new leader, she thought back to when she was a principal.

“Once you’ve been a teacher or an administrator, you never lose that goal,” she said.

Principal Sophelia McMannen outside Vaughan Elementary School during the layoff on October 22. (Sergio Osnaya-Prieto / EducationNC)

The school needed to send information to staff, set up initial staff meetings, and even plan the open house.

So she got down to business. Along with Chelsa Jennings, the district academic officer who has worked in the district for 27 years, the two established a timeline and checklist.

Several other central office staff eventually joined them, and they took turns in pairs to complete daily chores at school until McMannen could take over. Basically, Vaughan Elementary had a rotation of leaders who, for two months and working in pairs, assumed the role of principal.

“Students need consistency,” Whitaker said.

“It was essential to really create that continuity,” Jennings added, “to ensure that we provided the school with some stability and consistency throughout our transitions, as well as parents and the community. “

This extra work was certainly not easy, and this school year was already ahead with its share of challenges. Educators are navigating the third year affected by the pandemic, and like many districts across the state and country, schools in Warren County are facing a staff shortage.

The pool of replacements has shrunk since the start of the pandemic, Whitaker explained, and staff shortages and quarantines have already caused schools to revert to distance learning.

Central office workers weren’t the only ones to hold multiple positions – instructional coaches began teaching and teachers gave up their planning periods to lead other classes.

“When you encounter these challenges in a school, the educational integrity of your school is threatened,” Jennings said. “So you are doing everything you can to adapt to these areas while our human resources department tries to fill these vacancies. “

Dr Keedra Whitaker, Chelsa Jennings, Sophelia McMannen, Flora Pitchford and LaDonna Booker in a hallway at Vaughan Elementary School on Friday October 22. These are some of the staff who helped during the transition. (Sergio Osnaya-Prieto / EducationNC)

And meanwhile, new principal McMannen had her feet in two schools at once. While she came to Vaughan about once a week to start settling down, she spent most of her time at her high school in her old neighborhood.

“So I literally started (in Vaughan) on a Friday,” she said, “and that Tuesday I gave ACT (at my old school). “

Despite the odds, McMannen was finally greeted on her first full day in Vaughan earlier this month with a Chick-fil-A breakfast and flowers – from her old school and her husband.

Now that she knows exactly what kind of team is supporting her in this new neighborhood, she is working to catch up and make sure her students – her “babies” – don’t fall behind.

“Teachers,” she said, “I always say we – and I say we because I will always be a teacher at heart – you always have to think outside the box. “

But the shortages are pressing. McMannen said she even tried calling universities to see if they can spare student teachers to fill some vacancies.

“Until teachers can get the support – it’s not even just the money – but the support they need, you won’t have people coming into the field to teach,” he said. McMannen said. “And I pray it won’t, but I feel like it’s going to get worse.”

This article first appeared on EducationNC and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.


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