Columbia County school officials recently welcomed more than 70 not-so-new teachers to the school system.
About three-quarters of teachers hired in recent months to serve in Columbia County schools have previous experience, said school system Human Resources Director Tony Wright.
One such teacher, Lisa Johns, is returning to the school system after a three-year hiatus to be with her child.
A special needs teacher at Martinez Elementary School, Johns previously taught at River Ridge Elementary and in McDuffie County.
Now that her daughter is starting pre-kindergarten, she wants to return to the classroom.
"I was raised in a home that took in foster children and I learned a lot about compassion as a child," Johns said during a new-teacher orientation session Tuesday at Savannah Rapids Pavilion. "Teaching children with special needs requires a lot of compassion and understanding, and it's something I feel called to do."
Also new to the school system, but not to the teaching profession, are Becky Widener and Carlene Basciano. Both previously taught in Richmond County schools but took jobs this year at Grovetown Middle to be closer to their Columbia County homes.
Though teaching is nothing new to Widener, teaching middle-school pupils will be.
Previously, she taught fifth-grade math and science at Tobacco Road Elementary School. This year, she'll teach sixth-grade math.
"It's a little scary," Widener said. "But it can't be any more scary than teaching in elementary school."
Basciano previously taught eighth-grade math at C.T. Walker Magnet School. Now, she'll teach math to middle-schoolers in danger of failing the Criterion-Referenced Competency Test.
"This puts me in a position to support kids who really need the help," she said. "Also, I'll only have about 20 students per class."
Increased class sizes is one factor that allowed the school system to hire just 74 new teachers this school year.
School officials hired about that same number of teachers prior to the start of school last year. In previous years, though, they would hire more than twice that number.
As the state has lost money due to a drastic drop in tax revenue, many school systems are feeling the financial pinch.
During the past two years, state education officials have allowed school systems to raise class sizes to cope with the lost funding. More pupils in classes means fewer teachers are needed to instruct them.
Since 2008, the Columbia County school system has cut about 100 teaching positions.
As teaching jobs became more scarce, it created an employers' market for new hires.
"I would humbly agree with that," Wright said. "We've always been lucky to have good teachers wanting to work here, but I think we've been able to hire a better quality of teacher over the past couple of years."
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