RUTHERFORD COUNTY, Tenn. (WKRN) —The Rutherford County School district is dealing with explosive growth as we count down to the new school year.
“I think we’ve all grown a little bit more than we expected to. But this has been the trend for the last 10 to 15 years. And unfortunately, we continually have to adjust,” said Rutherford County Schools director Dr. James Sullivan.
He said RCS grew by more than 2,000 students in the last school year. For perspective, the average school district size in Tennessee is between 2,500 and 3,500 students so the amount of RCS students increased by about the size of some other entire school districts in the state.
RCS added 180 growth positions just to fill the classrooms for the additional 2,070 students and that’s on top of already being in a teacher shortage.
“We are blessed. We have a county commission and a school board that that understands what our needs are,” said Dr. Sullivan. “We actually partnered with a third party company to look at our zones to look at our buildings for capacity. We don’t want our parents to have to be in rezoned schools all the time. And that’s something we have to get a handle on so that our parents aren’t being rezoned from the same two different schools every two to three years.”
Right now – there are 95 openings for licensed educators in the district. There are 78 openings for support staff like custodians and behavior intervention specialists.
Dr. Sullivan has been on the job as Director of Schools for less than a month. But he has a long history in the field of education having served as a principal and the district’s assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction. He explained that RCS is not used to struggling this much to find teachers.
“Some neighboring districts, that’s been the trend for quite a few years. That hasn’t been our trend,” he said. “But as we continue to get bigger, we’re continuing to have issues and filling positions. We do have a great support staff that will be able to fill in as needed.”
He says the Teach Now program is one way they try to recruit teachers where someone who has a Bachelor’s degree can teach while getting licensed through the county. The district had a big turnout during two open-houses for the program this summer.
“I think that shows the belief in education,” said Dr. Sullivan. “Despite all the negative attention that you see around education, the fact that we could have probably over 150 people at our two meetings that we publicize, and then that many people show up that are interested to teach, shows how much belief that there still is for education.”