HORRY COUNTY, S.C. (WBTW) — More than 300 new teachers are coming to Horry County Schools for the 2022-23 school year to help fight the nationwide teacher shortage.

The South Carolina Center for Educator Recruitment, Retention and Advancement (CERRA) releases teacher turnover data twice each school year. November 2021’s report showed roughly 6,900 teachers and school service workers quit their jobs in summer 2021.

CERRA’s mid-year report for the most recent school year wasn’t any better, as another roughly 1,000 teachers had quit by February.

“In terms of the problems that we’re having recruiting and retaining teachers, I would say that we’re at a crisis,” said SC for Ed research director Steve Nuzum.

SC for Ed is an advocate group for teachers across the state.

The group is calling for higher teacher salaries, improved benefits, improved working conditions and greater investment in public schools.

Nuzum teaches in Richland County.

“Keep acting the way that we are now, and I don’t think it will ever get better,” Nuzum said.

At Ocean Bay Middle School in Carolina Forest, Alexis Del Castillo is getting ready to start his third year teaching. He’s also Horry County Schools’ reigning Rookie Teacher of the Year.

“The first thing most kids notice when they enter my classroom is my Harry Potter collection,” Del Castillo said.

He said the collection helps him relate to his math and science students.

“I come to school every day just with the intention of providing a great, welcoming, safe environment for my kids where they can learn and feel comfortable,” Del Castillo said.

Horry County Schools still has 67 teacher vacancies, as of Aug. 12, with most of the openings being for middle and high school level math and science classes, meaning teachers like Del Castillo are a hot commodity.

“Everybody’s competing to grab the best of the best,” said Lisa Bourcier, a spokesperson for Horry County Schools.

The more than 300 new teachers in Horry County Schools this year is more than the usual 250. Around 70 of the 300 new teachers are Coastal Carolina University alums. Bourcier said the district and CCU partner to provide prospective teachers real classroom experience, which often turns into a first job for many CCU students.

The district also targeted teachers moving from out of state to Horry County by using billboards.

“Because there is an interest, again, people vacation here and a lot of people tend to live here,” Bourcier said.

Bourcier said the district works daily to fill the open positions. Horry County Schools also deploys long-term substitutes and retired teachers to help plug the gaps.

This past spring semester, Del Castillo felt the pressure of the teacher shortage and picked up a fifth class during his normal planning period.

“That was just extra weight on my shoulders, but I did that because I couldn’t bear to watch another class go without having a teacher,” Del Castillo said.

Del Castillo said the extra class put him at risk of burnout, but added he’d do it all over.

“It did cut into that work life balance, but if it means making kids successful, it’s worth it,” Del Castillo said.

SC for Ed’s Steve Nuzum said change in the classroom starts with lawmakers in Columbia.

We want teachers to have a voice,” Nuzum said. “We want for policymakers who are making decisions about education to go to the people who have the expertise and qualifications to help come up with solutions.”

South Carolina lawmakers raised teacher minimum salaries to $40,000 this school year from $36,000 as part of the nearly $14 billion budget. Some districts, like Horry County, offer teachers more than that to start.

Lawmakers also streamlined the state’s education funding formula to just one line item from the more than two dozen it was before.

CERRA’s report on teacher vacancies for the 2022-23 school year comes out in November.