Local News

Bertie schools grow crop of future teachers

Posted March 12, 2009 9:02 a.m. EDT
Updated March 12, 2009 9:10 a.m. EDT

— Bertie County is growing a bumper crop of future teachers in its high school classrooms, even as rural counties across North Carolina struggle to fill vacant positions.

Rural, poor and covered by farmland, Bertie is a long way from the big city, so school officials figured the best way to keep new teachers in the county is by recruiting people who already love living there.

"Kids that are from here, have family roots here, are most likely to stay here," Bertie County School Superintendent Dr. Chip Zullinger said.

The Teacher Cadet program is the county's "home-grown strategy" to nurture that local talent, Zullinger said. The county hires qualified students straight out of high school, pays them a salary and their college tuition, and puts them to work in a public school classroom.

"I got to stay home. We get paid, and our school is paid for, too. I'm going to graduate debt-free," teacher cadet Shaterri Palmer said.

"That's something that a couple years ago, a child coming to Bertie High School would have never thought possible," Zullinger said.

The cadets earn about $20,000 a year, along with full benefits. During the day, they work as classroom assistants alongside teacher mentors. Nights, they attend classes at a satellite campus of Shaw University. They have pledged to teach in Bertie for at least five years after graduation.

"I can't really imagine it now, but I'm ready for the time to get there. I'm excited about" being in the classroom, teacher cadet Marvin Outlaw said.

The county hopes to hire 20 teacher cadets each year. The county foots the bill of about $600,000 for the program.

Educators said that investing that money in their local students is well worth it for the school system and county.

"They're already part of the community, and I think it makes a better-quality teacher," teacher Jim Guard.

"If we recruit a teacher that is not from here, two out of every three times, they're not going to stay," Zullinger said.

The superintendent said he sees the Teacher Cadet program as a turning point for Bertie's school system.

"I think it's where we rebuild public education in a county that is largely looked at as an underperformer," Zullinger said.