MECKLENBURG COUNTY, N.C. — Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools has reduced the workload of its exceptional children’s teachers to attract more people to take on the job.
Exceptional educators make sure students have the appropriate individualized education program in the least restrictive environment.
The district anticipates that 10% of its EC educator positions will go unfilled if they don’t get more people to apply.
When Shalana Lackey was in the classroom teaching students with special needs, it was a highlight of her career.
“You see these kids, and they are, you know, they all have different challenges, but what kid doesn’t," Lackey said.
Lackey was one of about 900 exceptional educators at CMS until she transitioned into a new role in the district.
This school year, the district is down 90 of those 900 educators.
"We've seen people move, we've seen people change career paths, we've seen people prefer to work in a remote setting," Ann White, CMS's Associate Superintendent of Student Services, said. "And therefore, people are just reevaluating their life choices. And so the vacancies are greater."
White, the leader of the Exceptional Children Department, said having 10% of its positions unfilled in this department is not normal.
The vacancies impact students.
"They don't need substitutes, or people filling in for rotating coverage, they need a teacher that's going to be there every day to build that relationship with them and to understand how they learn best," White said.
The U.S. Department of Education shows North Carolina is facing a teacher shortage in several subjects. The biggest shortage is in teachers who work with children deemed Exceptional.
CMS is directly competing with surrounding districts also trying to retain and recruit their own teachers.
The district also created new incentives to solve the problem. EC teachers at CMS get a $200 monthly bonus in addition to a $2,500 recruitment bonus.
"We also developed a new position that takes the paperwork burden off the ECE classroom teacher, so we've got more money and less paperwork work," White said.
The district is separating some required paperwork from the instruction responsibilities of the teachers.
"Paperwork can be a real challenge to EC teachers because they have to write IEPs and there's just a lot of paperwork that goes along with it," White said.
IEPs are federally required paperwork to track and direct the progress of exceptional students.
"If that position would have been in place when I was in the classroom, then I would have been able to choose do I want to focus on the instruction and just be a classroom teacher?" Lackey asked. "Or do I want to focus on in compliance and you know, make do with the paperwork piece?"
The district hopes these new incentives give it the edge to compete with other districts that also need positions filled.