FLORENCE, SC (WMBF) – While at a lot of local schools, overcrowding is a huge problem when it comes to students, it's the complete opposite when it comes to teachers.
Florence School District One is getting creative to fill that teacher shortage. Southside Middle School is one of the many schools across the state and U.S. in need of teachers.
While the need is critical across the board, it's middle and high schools that are feeling the crunch. The shortage is putting pressure on administrators to get qualified and certified teachers into vacancies.
"When we see that we are having an exodus that's greater than the pool that is available for consideration, then we start giving some options for making sure that we can fill our classrooms with qualified teachers," Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources for Florence School District One Matrell Sturkey said.
She said nationally, school districts are having to get creative to solve the teacher shortage issue.
"Even with local colleges and universities, the teaching programs are experiencing fewer and fewer persons who are interested in going into teaching," Sturkey said.
Two years ago, Florence School District One started talking about how it could become a competitive district in keeping its current teachers and attracting new ones.
It's what happened during those talks that brought people like Mr. Sradhar Koneru to Florence. He teaches Pre-Algebra at South Side Middle School.
"In India, it won't be like students coming in and going out. [It will be] teachers moving in and out," Koneru said.
Sradhar Koneru or Mr. K, as Southside students call him, has been in the United States and Florence for five months.
"Still going through the transition really. [In] India, we still use the chalk board. Whereas here we are using smartboards and video presentation, making the students work on the board, group work paper work like that," Koneru said.
He's employed by an international company that helps American schools fill teaching vacancies.
Florence One began using two international companies after seeing success in other districts.
The two companies, EPI and TPG, were on an approved list from the state department.
"The state department is wonderful to us. They have approved a number of companies that specialize in finding teachers in different areas of the world who are interested in coming to the United States as part of a cultural exchange program," Sturkey said.
Mr. K is one of 32 international teachers working in Florence School District One.
Just two years ago, the district had zero international teachers; last year, there were 12.
Those 32 teachers are from an array of places like Venezuela, the Philippines, Jamaica, India, Columbia, Guyana, Zimbabwe, and they are divided between eight different schools.
The district said those teachers are some of the top in their fields.
"Highly, highly qualified in the content area, whether it's math, science, foreign language - our principals are looking at an extremely highly-qualified pool of applicants," Sturkey said.
Mr. Koneru comes with 15 years of teaching experience and other international teachers have taught on the university level.
He hopes to make math simple for his Southside students.
"If they can learn the process of how to deal with a problem, and how math is related to their life. We don't like math but we do math in real life," Koneru said
Here are some numbers from the South Carolina Department of Education spelling out the teacher shortage for the entire state: Florence One had an eight and half percent teacher turnover rate in 2016, which has increased over the years. It should be noted state-wide, Florence One's turnover rate is not as crucial as others.
"Two years ago, although we did rather well, as the statistics will show, with filling our classrooms with certified teachers. In the midst of a teacher shortage is one of those things that we certainly have to spend a considerable amount of time looking at and making sure that we are taking advantage of all our options to hire teachers," Sturkey said.
The cost for the international exchange program is $11,000 per teacher. The cultural exchange company provides benefits to International Teachers. The fee includes relocation costs, which are recouped by the district.