Friday, March 24, 2017

How do we attract veteran teachers to come to the Joplin R-8 School District?

I took advantage of the decision to allow the public to question the candidates at last night's Joplin R-8 Board of Education forum to pose a question about an issue that is important, but is rarely mentioned in discussions about problems facing the 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.


Anonymous said...

As for Dr. Moss, we will find out soon enough that this is not the person to lead this district let alone any district. She simply has no innovation or ideas to address problems. As to the question of why Joplin cannot attract veteran teachers, the trend in education these days is that a veteran teachers do not leave their district and give up what they have built in another district to go to a place like Joplin. Joplin has to first change its reputation which is more important than money, professional development or anything else that you can name. The reputation by word of mouth regarding Joplin negative and Turner I'm sorry a lot of that has to do with you, Huff, the school board and others. Making job descriptions longer is ridiculous and would not yield any different results. The bottom line is this will start with the proper leadership and a vision. The board of education has been clueless and chasing their tails over the last several years including the current one, and that has to change. A proven leader without baggage and a proven track record will have to be in place. Sadly, the one we have now isn't even close to matching that description. Just ask the people from her prior School in Arkansas who were throwing a party moment she left.

Anonymous said...

Damn CJ

Anonymous said...

9:14 I do...everyday.

Anonymous said...

9:14AM. I thought the exact same thing! I was hoping CJ would get a job and leave us alone to fix what he destroyed. I guess that isn't happening soon.

Anonymous said...

The first comment on this thread is totally wrong about the effect Turner has had. To say that he has played a part in veteran teachers steering clear of Joplin is simply wrong. Unless you're talking about what CJ Huff did to him. The way Turner was treated would make anyone think twice about coming to Joplin. Good things are happening in Joplin schools now and Turner should receive some of the credit for that. It was his constant digging helped expose CJ for the con artist he is and helped elect a new school board that has Joplin headed in the right direction. I don't think Turner was hinting at this, but bringing him back as a teacher would not only add another veteran to the mix, one who was an excellent teacher, but it would send the message that the dark days of this school district are in the past.

Anonymous said...

2:20: agree to completely disagree. He is a part of the saga. Parents who defend him will still tell you he had no business including inappropriate material in his "book".

Anonymous said...

I'd encourage the current board members to "apply" for a job with Joplin schools so they can see for themselves the application process.
It's very long! At one time ( when Tina Smith was in charge), applicants had to include their ACT score ( seriously , what veteran of more then 15 years has that information still or what if you lived on West Coast and took SAT?).
Then applicants had to take a "mini-ACT for each job they applied for - from Wonderlic. If you made it through these hurdles, just maybe someone would read through the 7 page application to find your uploaded resume and cover letter.
Attracting veteran teachers is more then just a buddy system or PD or pay. Have less red - tape.
Other district applications are less complicated.
And have you considered many principals are filling positions with student teachers who spend time in their buildings? Rather hard for veteran teachers to compete with someone who is in the school for a semester .

Anonymous said...

Give the Veteran teachers who have stuck around 15+ years a bigger raise. An extra $5000 a year for the teachers who have stuck with the district through the thick and thin would help retain qualified, veteran teachers. It shouldn't affect the budget much, as there aren't very many teachers who have been with the district 15 years or longer.

Anonymous said...

I completely agree with 9:00. Targeted raises for veteran teachers. Reward those who have dedicated their professional lives to helping Joplin's students regardless of the numerous administrative hurdles they have had to face. Help them feel like their effort and dedication was worth it.

Anonymous said...

Joplin only allows experienced teachers coming in from outside the district to bring in and be paid for up to 10 years on the salary schedule.Webb City, Carl Junction and Carthage all allow veteran teachers transferring in to bring in up to 29 years on the salary schedule. This could explain why they might be getting more of the experienced teachers. You can read this on the Joplin 2016-2017 salary schedule and by going to the MSTA salary and benefits guide (see page 24 & 25)for 16-17

Randy said...

I was not aware of that. That makes a big difference.

Anonymous said...

I came to Joplin to teach with 21 years of experience and was crushed to learn that I could only get 10 years on the salary scale. Tina Smith looked quite upset when I asked which years of experience should I leave at home in the morning. I also felt very out of place being asked What are you doing here? All the time! As if something was wrong with me wanting to teach there.