Friday, March 24, 2017
How do we attract veteran teachers to come to the Joplin R-8 School District?
Unfortunately, none of the candidates answered the question I asked, instead opting to answer one that had been addressed numerous times during the earlier portions of the forum.
Each of the candidates- Ron Brewer, Derek Gander, Deborah Gould, and Brent Jordan- quite rightly noted that teacher retention is a major issue.
The Turner Report has noted numerous times that during the final four years of the C. J. Huff Administration, the district was losing an average of 100 teachers a year, or more than 50 percent of the faculty.
The departures have continued with about 70 teachers leaving each of the last two years.
The problem has been noted, not only in this forum, but in forums the past few years.
What has not been addressed, and what I tried to address in my question, was a problem that board member Debbie Fort noted several months ago- a large percentage of those leaving have been experienced teachers. Fort pointed out that more than 50 percent of the district's teachers have five years or less of experience.
And that is a major problem, one that needs to be addressed.
In the most highly functioning school districts, the faculty consists of a mixture of people who have been teaching 20 or 30 years, ones who have been in the profession 10 to 15 years, younger veterans with five to 10 years of classroom experience and teachers with less than five years of experience.
That mixture not only provides a veteran presence in the classrooms and in the halls, but also provides a pipeline system in which a few older teachers retire or move elsewhere and can be replaced by talented young teachers, who are able to be mentored by one or more of the remaining veterans.
C. J. Huff and Angie Besendorfer destroyed that pipeline in the Joplin R-8 School District and no one is talking about the steps that need to be taken to fix it.
When you have a large number of inexperienced teachers coming into a school district each year, you have more teachers who are simply not ready (and some who never will be) to be in the classroom. When you have fewer vacancies, you have a better chance to hire only top-level newcomers.
I asked incoming superintendent Melinda Moss about this problem recently and she suggested it could be handled by increased professional development, in addition to mentoring.
Moss is coming from Harrison,Arkansas, a district which she told me does have that proper mixture of veterans and younger teachers.
I respectfully disagree with her if she thinks professional development alone will cure this problem.
Which brings me back to my unanswered question from the candidate forum.
What can we do to bring veteran teachers into the district?
The only way to correct the imbalance is by encouraging an influx of veteran educators. Otherwise, it will take years for Joplin to get back to where it was when Jim Simpson was superintendent.
Though my question wasn't answered, I offer the following suggestions:
1. Continue the effort to increase the salaries and benefits for teachers. Steps in that direction have already been taken by the current board and these are definitely a consideration for veteran teachers considering a change in location.
2. Continue the move toward actually including faculty in decisions rather than the top-down system employed during the Huff-Besendorfer years.
3. While those first two steps are important, you are still not going to get many veteran teachers to come to Joplin from other districts unless you put out the word that they will be welcomed. After all, if they leave another district to come here, they will be sacrificing their tenure. On the other hand, there are always good teachers looking for a challenge or looking to be a part of a district that is doing things the right way. The best way to encourage experienced teachers to come to Joplin is through word-of-mouth. If district teachers buy into what is being done here, they can spread the word to their friends from districts that are not faring as well. For the past few years, teachers have not encouraged anyone to come here and veteran teachers stayed as far away from here as possible while Huff was in charge.
4. Though I hate to propose making the advertisements for teaching positions even longer, it would not do any harm to point out that Joplin jobs are open to the best candidates, whether they are talented young teachers looking for their first positions or teachers who have already experienced success in other districts.
Obviously, any such initiative to attract veteran teachers would require extra care to make sure that Joplin does not become, to use candidate Brent Jordan's phrase "a Mecca" for veteran teachers who bounce from district to district because they do not have the skills or are lacking in one fashion or another. That means careful background checks, something which is hard to do when you are still having to fill 70 to 100 teaching vacancies each year.
The candidates were not avoiding answering my question. For the most part, it is a question that no one is asking about a problem that is just as serious as any other facing the Joplin R-8 School District.