LAURINBURG — Among the more than 400 educators teaching students in Scotland County Schools classrooms in the upcoming school year, some 70 will be newcomers to the system.
Of those, some 25 are county natives, with about 55 coming to Scotland County from other North Carolina school districts. Others, like Frank Stooksbury, previously taught in another state.
Stooksbury, who will teach fifth grade math at Wagram Elementary School, taught for 20 years in Southern California, where he taught all elementary subjects.
“In California you teach all subjects, you don’t teach one subject, but I was the math coach for our district for 18 years so that’s kind of where I wanted to go,” he said.
Prior to teaching, Stooksbury spent 22 years in the Air Force, and he recently moved to Scotland County to be closer to his grandchildren.
“I wanted to continue because I feel like I’m a little too young to retire,” he said on Tuesday during Scotland County Schools’ new teacher orientation.
“I actually taught college for a couple of years and decided I really enjoy kids more so I went to an elementary school and I’ve loved it ever since.”
Press spotlighting North Carolina’s decline in national teacher pay rankings over the last several years, he said, did not factor into his decision to teach here.
During Monday’s meeting of the Scotland County Board of Education, school system Finance Officer Jay Toland summarized the impact the state’s budget will have on the schools, with raises for teachers ranging from less than 1 percent to more than 18 percent on a 30-year pay scale.
Though school finance staff initially budgeted to return teacher assistants to full hours and 100 percent of their base pay, a $397,000 cut in state funding to Scotland County for teacher assistants makes that plan impractical as further cuts to teacher assistant funds are expected next year.
On Monday night, several board members advocated bringing teacher assistants to 88 percent for the coming school year. To employing teacher assistants only the 180 days that students are in class for 7.5 hours each day, the school system will have to appropriate $138,000 in fund balance. To keep them in the classroom at 100 percent, for 215 days at 8 hours per day as initially budgeted, $414,000 in fund balance would be required.
For the 2013-2014 school year, teacher assistants were hired at 83 percent, as the school year was shortened to 166 days with teacher assistants in the classroom for 7.5 hours per day.
Demetris Strickland will return to Scotland High School after four years away teaching in Hoke County, with leaving the state never having crossed her mind.
“I’m from New York and, having experienced living out of the state, I feel that North Carolina has a great quality of life,” she said. “You can make more money, but will you be happy and will your quality of life be what you want it to be?”
Strickland will return to the position of exceptional children’s teacher at Scotland High School, which she held for eight years.
“I enjoyed teaching at the high school; it’s the only high school in the county and the camaraderie was excellent, the management, I just enjoyed everything about it,” said Strickland, who says she enjoys teaching children with special needs as it has afforded her the opportunity to work with students of all ages.
“Knowing people growing up with special needs, encountering some family members, my curiosity attracted me to the field,” she said. “In some ways it was almost accidental, but I wound up gravitating more and more toward mental health and EC. I love the field: it’s diverse, my license is from kindergarten to 12th grade and I have literally taught at every grade level in 15 years.”
Scotland County Schools staff are welcoming the system’s incoming teacher cohort this week with an introduction to the system and to the realities of teaching in an economically stressed area. Director of Student Services Jamie Synan presented some pertinent demographics, including the county’s 30 percent poverty rate, and warned that teachers will experience the expression of those demographics in their classrooms.
“A lot of times our children in poverty don’t have a washer and dryer in their house, so they’ll have to go to the Laundromat,” she said. “It’s expensive, so we have a lot of kids that will come to school and their clothes may smell a little bit musty or mildewy because they wash the clothes at the Laundromat, but then they don’t have the money to dry them the way that they need to.”
Synan led the incoming teachers through a list of positive actions to take to contribute to their students’ success, including tailoring interventions to a student’s actual abilities and resources, and establishing mutually respectful relationships.
“If there is that mutual respect, which means you respect the student and the student respects you, then that is their motivation for learning,” she said. “If students realize that you respect them, no matter where they come from or what their circumstances are, they are going to do for you.”
Mary Katherine Murphy can be reached at 910-506-3169. Follow her on Twitter @emkaylbg.