Money vs. quality of life an easy choice for some

By Julia Merchant • Staff Writer

Two newly licensed teachers with ties to Western North Carolina offered a very different perspective on the recruitment process, including why they chose to either stay in the region or relocate elsewhere.

Amber Starrett graduated from Western Carolina University in December with a degree in middle school Math and Science. As the holder of a certification in two of the most sought after fields in public schools (all school districts interviewed named math and science, along with special education, as the three hardest-to-fill positions), Starrett was scooped up by Guilford County just days after graduating.

Why did she take Guilford’s offer?

For one thing, the school district pursued her with gusto. Though Starrett had applied at nine other smaller school districts, she wasn’t receiving calls back. Guilford, in contrast, contacted her within days of placing her application.

Starrett said money wasn’t the main factor in her decisionmaking process. She wanted to get back to the Guilford County area to be near family, but she admits the high pay offered by the school district was, in the end, a clincher.

“Guilford County Schools has the highest pay in the state right now. This year they’re actually giving a 5 percent increase for new teachers, and they don’t do a one-time supplement, they give a supplement check every month,” Starrett said. The check, which amounts to roughly $200, does ultimately make a difference.

The higher salary offered by Guilford did influence Starrett’s decision to teach in that district rather than the neighboring county of Davidson.

“The pay in Davidson is actually about the same as in Haywood, which was quite a few thousand dollars less than in Guilford,” Starrett said.

Sam Summers, a Waynesville native who graduated with a Master’s in English Secondary Education from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, decided to return to his hometown after spending his first year teaching in King’s Mountain.

Summers left King’s Mountain because the town itself provided little in the way of activities or socializing for people Summers’ age. Often, Summers said, it’s easy to get a job in smaller, “podunk” counties, but those are often not desirable places for younger teachers to relocate. He hopes to get a position in Haywood or Henderson county, both close to Asheville. For him, pay isn’t as important as location.

However, Summers has found that others have been drawn to Haywood in the same way he was, making it difficult to find work.

“It’s really kind of hard in this area because so many people want to be here,” Summers said. Finding a job in Asheville is almost out of the question. The pay and location make employment in the city “really competitive — I don’t know how to get a job there, because apparently having a master’s isn’t enough.”

Summers admits, though, that his specialty area — English — has probably made it more difficult for him to secure a job.

“Basically the way things stand in terms of the whole teacher shortage thing, it’s really easy to get a job if you teach math, science or foreign language, at least at the high school level,” he said. “English and social studies (jobs) are not as easy to come by for some reason.”

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