Gaston County Schools uses new program to combat teacher shortages as kids return to class

GASTON COUNTY, N.C. — Hallways and classrooms are empty right now, but in a matter of hours, students in Cleveland and Gaston county will return to school.

In Gaston County, as students come back to school, district leaders grapple with a shortage of educators to teach the kids.

Channel 9′s Anthony Kustura was outside Lowell Elementary School where about 400 students were expected to descend on the school by the time the bell rings at 7:30 a.m. on Wednesday.

To fill teaching positions, Lowell Elementary is using two former teacher assistants to lead classrooms.

The school isn’t the only one feeling strapped. A district spokesperson told Channel 9 it has roughly 70 teacher vacancies out of its 1,900 positions.

That’s nearly double what it’s been in recent years, the district said.

Last spring, Gaston County Schools started a program allowing teachers assistants to be trained at local colleges to become full-time teachers.

Brandy Guiton was one of the educators who benefitted from the change. She worked as an assistant for 18 years before she was accepted into the debut program.

Wednesday will be her first day in front of students as their full-time teacher.

“I think it hit the first workday when I was, like, ‘OK, now I have to set this room up myself,’” she said.

Guiton is one of about 50 assistants in the program that have helped fill open positions districtwide.

“They are not new faces,” Guiton said. “They are not new to the program. They know the education system.”

(WATCH BELOW: Gaston County leaders talk about ways to decrease crime in the community)