BEAUFORT COUNTY, S.C. (WSAV) — WSAV has detailed the teacher shortage throughout the Lowcountry and the entire nation for months.

Now, the federal government is stepping in to help one local college and the Beaufort County School district with their issue.

There were 1,600 teacher openings in the state of South Carolina last year, which is almost 50% more than in 2020, and colleges cannot fill the positions as fast as educators are leaving.

That’s why a new $5 million grant from the Department of Education could be key to making a difference in classes, and for students.

The University of South Carolina Beaufort received a $5.1 million Teacher Quality Partnership grant from the U.S. Department of Education and will partner with the Beaufort County School District to implement it.

“We’re expanding our efforts to get more students into the teacher, education pipeline,” said Dr. Bruce Marlowe, USCB Dept. of Education Chairman. “This is just one of the many ways that we’re continually trying to improve the quality of life in the Lowcountry. And when we’re at, when we have the opportunity to impact so many young people by empowering and elevating the teaching profession to where it ought to be anyway it is a huge opportunity.”

It is called MASTERY (Melding Academics, Support and Training of Educators for higher Retention Yields). This grant project will expand USCB’s recruitment, preparation and support of highly qualified, diverse teacher candidates for 21 high-need schools in the Beaufort County School District.

“We want to be able to staff our schools with people that are coming through a pipeline where they’re familiar with,” explains Dr. Frank Rodriguez, Beaufort County School Superintendent. “For example, the schools and the communities within which they’re going to be teaching and working, and that is really really important.”

Educators are leaving the profession at a rate of 8% a year, but colleges are only providing new teachers at a 4% rate.

“When we have the opportunity to impact so many young people by empowering and elevating the teaching profession to where it ought to be any way it is a huge opportunity,” said Eric Skipper, USCB Provost.

MASTERY will focus on developing teacher candidates in the critical shortage areas of early childhood education, Gifted and Talented education, middle and high school math and science (STEM), special education and English as a Second Language.

“Somewhere between 95 and 100% of our graduates, depending on the semester when they graduate, regardless of whether they’re from someplace else in the State or from out of State end up teaching in Beaufort County schools,” said Dr. Bruce Marlowe, Dept. of Education Chairman for USCB. “And that’s large because of the experiences they have with the good mentorship they have from cooperating teachers who are already in the field.”

“The more you have educators from a local area with that existing content, knowledge or background knowledge or historical knowledge of your local community and your local area, right?” said Dr. Rodriguez. “And then the better off you are in helping students be successful within that profile of the Beaufort County graduate.”

The program is not just designed to help students, but to give continuing education and help to teachers as well, long after they leave the University and start in local schools. The goal is to make sure they know they are not alone.

“One of the great qualities I had as an undergraduate student was, as I graduated into education. My university didn’t say goodbye to me,” said Dr. Mary Stratos, Beaufort County Chief Instructional Officer. “We continued on that relationship and touching base, and USCB. Now is put in the groundwork, the foundation to keep that relationship and partner with BCSD.”

MASTERY is designed to enhance the already strong partnership between USCB and BCSD, by recruiting more people who want to become teachers, supporting the work of in-service teachers and improving the learning outcomes for students in the Lowcountry of South Carolina. This initiative is expected to produce more than 100 new teachers for BCSD.

“Our district is excited to collaborate with our local higher education partner USCB on the MASTERY Teacher Quality Partnership Program to grow educators right here in Beaufort County who will possess specialized regional skills directly aligned to our students’ needs,” Rodriguez said. “We look forward to welcoming future USCB MASTERY education graduates as BCSD teachers and the many positive impacts they will have on our students for years to come.”

Over the next five years, the grant will provide support for USCB to:

  • Hire an Induction Coordinator to support first-year teachers and their teacher mentors
  • Employ three new faculty members: two in Early Childhood Education and one in STEM Education
  • Strengthen the Teacher Cadet program at local high schools
  • Expand the University’s Call Me MISTER program, which supports men of color interested in teaching at the early childhood or elementary level.

The TQP grant also provides material support for BCSD to purchase makerspace equipment such as 3D printers and robotics technology for each of the 21 identified high-needs schools. The grant also will allow USCB to create a state-of-the-art curriculum lab for its teacher education program.