Back to School 2022: Brunswick County Schools seeks to handle growth, improve classroom culture

Back to School 2022: Brunswick County Schools seeks to handle growth, improve classroom culture
Published: Aug. 30, 2022 at 2:45 PM EDT|Updated: Aug. 30, 2022 at 4:45 PM EDT
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BRUNSWICK COUNTY, N.C. (WECT) - Class is back in session this week in one of the country’s fastest-growing counties. Brunswick County Schools Superintendent Dr. Jerry Oates says the district is being proactive to manage its growing student population.

“As far as expansion projects, we are looking to, again, expand at North Brunswick because of the growth in population in the northern part of the county,” Oates said. “Other areas are seeing some growth as well, so we are tackling those as they come.”

Like many school districts across the country, Brunswick County is having trouble filling open teacher positions. Oates says while the district has an average of less than one teacher vacancy per school, it could use help in other areas.

“We have fared well as compared to other districts and looking at national numbers,” Oates said. “I think currently, right now, we’re looking at 16 certified staff vacancies. We have 20 schools, so that’s less than one per school. So, we’re doing well. As far as our classified employees, we’re definitely a little higher there, dealing with our bus drivers, custodians, teacher assistants, that nature of employee, but we’re making strides and making sure those areas are covered too.”

Reigning Teacher of the Year Betsy O’Hara is looking forward to having students return to a full year of in-person learning. She says she is using some of the lessons she learned during the pandemic to improve the classroom experience.

“During COVID we had to do everything virtual, but now that we’re back to full in person, a lot of the students want to take a break from the Chromebooks,” O’Hara said. “So, we’re trying to do a little bit of both, especially for the grading piece.”

Teachers and administrators say building a strong school culture and helping students adjust to a full year of in-person learning with no masks required is vital.

“Just having them back in the classroom, seeing them at their sporting events, you know, we really try to build school culture throughout our county,” said O’Hara. “I mean, that’s always the key to having a successful school year is that school culture with your staff, with your students, with the parents, and the community.”

On a personal level, O’Hara says one goal she has this year is to better help her 8th grade students prepare for the transition to high school.

“I just want the parents to feel comfortable knowing that there is a lot of discourse between the different levels,” she said. “It’s not like we just focus on the middle school and then say, ‘Oh, now we’re sending them up to high school.’ You know, we really do try to prepare them for that next level. And then the high school teachers know, kind of, what to expect when they get up there.”

WECT’s back-to-school coverage continues throughout this week.

Dr. Jerry Oates speaks about the challenges and triumphs in working in one of the state's fastest growing counties.