Guilford County Schools’ newly hired teachers eligible for signing bonuses of up to $30,000

Newly hired Guilford County Schools (GCS) teachers can earn a signing bonus of up to $30,000 depending on the educator’s level of experience and classroom effectiveness.

The bonuses range from $10,000 for beginning teachers and up to $30,000 for teachers with three or more years of “highly effective” EVAAS (Education Value-Added Assessment System) data showing their impact on students in specific courses, grades and subjects.

The district began to offer the signing bonuses in mid-December to attract roughly 40 teachers needed to help provide in-person instruction when more of its 69,355 students return to school buildings this week for in-person instruction.

Teachers hired through Jan. 31 are eligible to receive bonuses. The district will use money from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act to pay for the bonuses. There’s a provision that allows them to use a portion of the money for recruitment incentives.

“We would not be able to offer the bonuses at this scale without the CARES Act money,” Oakley said. “It’s important to note that the money is specifically identified for recruiting strategies. I think they recognized when they dispersed that money to districts that districts would be trying to hire additional staff members.”

Teachers are required to repay the bonus amount if he or she leaves the district before fulfilling a two-year commitment.

By late December, Oakley said the district had received 15 to 20 applications from teachers considered “highly qualified.” It was unclear how many had accepted positions with GCS.

Oakley noted that the December rollout of the bonus program was expected to attract college students who earned degrees last month.

Recent graduates are eligible for $10,000 signing bonuses.

“That’s significant for a recent college graduate,” Oakley said of the bonus.

The district generally hires about 500 teachers each year, Oakley said.

It needs more teachers to help schools observe social distancing requirements. Fewer students in classrooms means more teachers are needed to lead new classrooms created to accommodate smaller class sizes.

“We had every single one of our classrooms evaluated for the number of students that they could hold while keeping six feet apart,” explained Whitney Oakley, the district’s chief academic officer. “When you do that, a classroom that can hold 25 kids now can only hold 14 kids. We have to have another teacher for the 11 students who go into the additional room.”

Oakley said the district will use media centers and other non-traditional spaces for additional classrooms for younger students. School buildings can accommodate older students who will likely return for in-person instruction two days a week, with half coming Monday and Tuesday and the other half Thursday and Friday.

The signing bonuses highlight how districts continue to grapple with challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic that forced schools to close to in-person instruction in mid-March.

In Wake County, the school board is expected to vote tonight on a proposal to increase pay for substitute teachers needed to keep schools open for in-person instruction, the Raleigh News & Observer reported this week.

Under the plan, substitute teachers can earn up to an extra $425 a month depending on the number of days they work. The Wake school district has had trouble staffing schools due to COVID-19 quarantines. It suspended in-person instruction through Jan. 15.

In Guilford County, the signing bonuses are contingent on educators’ willingness to work in person.

“The need to have some additional staff members who are certified teachers is because of following social distancing requirements,” Oakley said, explaining that GSC Superintendent Sharon Contreas believes that each classroom deserves a certified teacher, even amid the pandemic.

Oakley said she was unaware if any other districts offer such generous signing bonuses to new hires.

GCS competes for teachers against districts in Wake, Durham, Mecklenburg and Forsyth counties. The district also competes against neighboring Rockingham and Alamance counties.

“Everybody needs good teachers, and so it’s a competition every year, not just during a year that’s unique like this one,” Oakley said.

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