As Gainesville City Schools prepares to expand Pre-K to all six elementary schools this fall, Superintendent Jeremy Williams is confident that the system will able to recruit and retain quality teachers.
But it’s one of the major challenges that face administrators in early learning education across the state, according to the Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education, a group founded in 1992 by the Georgia Chamber of Commerce and the Georgia Economic Developers Association.
“Like most sectors, the workers in this field are affected by a variety of factors that contribute to the well-being and effectiveness of a professional workforce — compensation and benefits, staffing structures and advancement, retention, education level and certification requirements …” the GPEE recently reported in its Top Ten Issues to Watch in education for 2018.
Georgia’s Pre-K serves over 350,000 children.
Early learning teachers work in a particularly low-paying field. In 2015, for example, Pre-K teachers in the state, on average, earned $16 per hour, while teachers in other early learning centers earned just $9 per hour.
Williams said the state provides about $28,000 in compensation for Pre-K teachers, but that the city school system will supplement that salary for Pre-K teachers with a master’s degree and 10 years of experience to help ensure they remain in the fold.
Williams said nine Pre-K teachers have already been hired for next year and he expects to add a 10th very soon.
Filling these positions quickly will allow the school system to expand the number of Pre-K classrooms to as many as 12 or more in the next few years, he added.
Wage enhancement is a major concern and strategic challenge for Jamie Reynolds, executive director and CEO of Sisu, Integrated Early Learning in Gainesville, which provides a “learning environment for special needs children six weeks to six years to learn and interact with typically developing peers.”
“It is one of our top five priorities,” she said.
About 85 percent of the human brain is developed by three years of age, according to recent research, and that figure highlights the growing importance educators are placing on early learning.
“So why are we not putting our best and brightest influencers in front of this age group?” Reynolds asked rhetorically.
According to the GPEE, “A lack of high-quality early learning opportunities and responsive interactions puts children at risk for poor mental and physical health, behavior problems and school failure. Ensuring that the workforce for the early learning industry is strong and supported must be a priority to ensure high-quality early learning opportunities for Georgia students.”
Reynolds said because of the specialized nature of education that Sisu provides, and the children it serves, finding quality teachers who can work and live comfortably on the salaries offered is difficult.
Moreover, the professional training Sisu provides its teachers can help pad their resumes, perhaps providing them an opportunity to land a job with better pay and benefits.
But that’s a chance Reynolds and her team have to take.
“At the end of the day, we’re here to serve children,” she said. “It really takes that special person with a servant’s heart or a heart for children.”