Tuesday, January 12, 2016
Money was not the main reason teachers left Joplin R-8 Schools
Former Superintendent C. J. Huff offered many reasons for the departures, depending on who was asking him or how well his last answer had been received.
The tornado has been an all-purpose excuse for everything and it was cited as a reason for teachers leaving. Yet few teachers left because of what happened May 22, 2011.
Huff also said that teachers were leaving because their spouses had taken out-of-town jobs. You could count those who left for that reason on the fingers of one hand and still have fingers left over.
The former superintendent also said that teachers were leaving because they could not live up to the standards required to teach here. Coming from someone with Huff's singular lack of accomplishment, that was an insult and also, as often was the case with Huff, a far cry from the truth.
Not once did Huff mention the low pay being received by the teachers who worked in his district, an omission that is easy to understand since he made a habit of submitting budgets that offered no pay hikes and no salary schedule step increases , Even this year the meager salary increase received by the teachers was quickly eaten up by increases in their health insurance costs. Some faculty members ended up making less than they earned last year.
Nevertheless, it has not been the lack of pay increases that caused teachers to flee the Joplin R-8 School District.
I was reminded of that tonight at a special R-8 Board meeting when board member Sallie Beard seemed surprised that behavior was considered a bigger problem by the current staff than salaries.
Her observation came during a meeting in which Interim Superintendent Norm Ridder announced that the first priority under the new strategic plan is going to be an emphasis on behavior. The situation in Joplin, he indicated, is unlike what he has encountered at his other stops.
This emphasis, he noted, has been well received by the teachers.
Behavior is something that has also been a concern for parents and for other students, the ones who arrive at school every day with an expectation of learning.
I have talked to teachers who left Joplin because they received no support from administration on disciplinary issues. These were not teachers who did not know how to maintain proper discipline in their classrooms. These were teachers who did what they were supposed to do, but were not backed by their building administrators, who were busy currying favor with central administration by keeping the number of referrals low and making it appear that the Joplin R-8 School District was an oasis where all children said, "yes, sir," "no, sir" and bowed and curtsied before adults.
Behavior was one thing that drove out good teachers. Lack of support across the board was another. In this case, teachers have been consulted and it is something they have deeply appreciated.
For the past several years, the decisions affecting teachers' jobs and lives have been handled, for the most part, by upper-level administrators who spent almost no time in the classroom before embarking on their administrative careers.
Teachers have never asked to make all decisions for the system. That is a falsehood that has been spread locally, primarily by a certain guest columnist for the Joplin Globe. Teachers want to be consulted and have a voice in the operation of the school. Not THE voice, just a voice. During the years of the Huff Administration, efforts were made to show that teachers were being consulted, usually through surveys that were weighted toward whatever the administration wanted done.
Teachers who have talked to the Turner Report are still guarded in their optimism, most likely because of a post-traumatic stress syndrome fallout from the years of C. J. Huff and Angie Besendorfer.
Money, though, has never been the major factor in the problems in the Joplin schools. And we are not alone in that. In school after school, in districts all across this nation, studies have shown time and again that teachers who feel supported in their districts and are able to work together with other teachers from their buildings feel that is more important than higher salaries.
That is not saying more money would not be appreciated. During the last years of the Jim Simpson Administration, R-8 teachers were the second highest paid teachers in the area, behind only Webb City. After Huff's arrival, the other large schools in the district have increased teacher salaries until they make more money that the teachers in Joplin.
Low salaries is a symptom of the problem that Norm Ridder faced when he arrived in Joplin. Many of the best teachers Joplin had are now teaching in other school districts, retired earlier than anticipated, or left the teaching field completely because they had no say and they had no support.
Having a genuine conversation with someone who is actually interested in what they have to say has been an encouraging sign for Joplin R-8 teachers.
Money is nice and our teachers will take it. Respect and common decency however, are the ingredients for a recipe that will keep more teachers from leaving and that is something that will benefit our schools and our children