Kentucky School Advocate
By Madelynn Coldiron
Faced with problematic teacher retention rates, some Kentucky school districts are experimenting with different approaches to try to stem high turnover.
Shelby County Schools launches new induction system
With the 2014-15 school year, the Shelby County district switched from a more traditional type of program to assist newly certified and new-to-the-district teachers to one that relies on instructional coaches and an immersion in district culture.
The new teacher induction program starts where most districts begin: a couple of days at the beginning of summer to introduce the newbies to central office staff and provide them with nuts-and-bolts information.
PHOTO: Martha Layne Collins High School eighth-grade teacher Thea N. Smith questions students working in a group during English class. This is Smith’s first year teaching at the Shelby County school.
“But then we go into ‘Here’s where we are instructionally, here’s what we believe. Here’s who we are’ – trying to catch them up on where we’ve been with professional development in the last few years and kind of give them some taste through workshops of, ‘Here’s what we’ve been learning about instruction in the district together,’” said district staff developer Lora Shields.
Prior to this school year, that two-day session would be followed by periodic surveying of the new teachers during the school year, offering them training sessions based on the needs they cited. However, using instructional coaches to work more closely with the new teachers enabled the district to provide just-in-time help, Shields said.
“That really seemed to help meet the needs better than waiting and seeing what they needed at different points in the year,” she said. “Coaches were able to see what the teachers needed immediately.”
The coaches “cycle back” and periodically check in with the new teachers, and vice versa. The new teachers also have time to observe their colleagues in the classroom.
The instructional coaches “are very mindful of our needs,” said Thea N. Smith, eighth-grade English/language arts teacher at Martha Layne Collins High School. “They coordinate a lot of things for us.”
Smith, an experienced teacher who is new to the district, said the initial district orientation “truly established a supportive ‘feel’ to the county.” She praised the ongoing support within her school and its formal and informal learning and coaching opportunities for new teachers.
The coaching idea actually resembles what the instructional coaches used to do before being focused primarily on instructional and classroom strategies, Shields said. But she said coaches were concerned because they saw new teachers struggling. This revised model allows the coaches to better support the new staff.
At the end of the year, the district holds a two-day session focusing on thinking strategies and going into more depth on its “workshop” approach to classroom learning, which is aimed at helping students understand how to learn with more independence, Shields said.
Carroll County Schools pilots purse string approach
Starting with the 2015-16 school year, five teachers beginning their first year in Carroll County Schools will receive a financial incentive to stick around.
Using a $25,000 grant, the district will give five new teachers – either brand new or simply new to the school system – $1,000 stipends for each of the next five years.
The idea came about as district leaders began tackling a flagging retention rate. Located between Louisville and Cincinnati, the district has a hard time hanging on to teachers because many are commuters and end up getting jobs closer to home, said Carl Roberts, Carroll County Schools director of grants and public relations.
“We have had some issues with teacher retention over the past few years,” Roberts said. “Depending on how you slice it, we’re having upwards of 50 percent of our new teachers end up leaving within a year or two.”
In 2012-13, only 16 of 27 new hires signed on for a second year; in 2013-14, 12 of 22 stayed on, “and that’s not even projecting it out to years two, three, four and five,” Roberts noted.
The impact of turnover goes beyond money, Superintendent Bill Hogan said. He cited the example of a third-year teacher who resigned a week after the district picked up the tab for her out-of-state professional development at the International Society for Technology in Education.
“I’ve invested three years in this teacher and she’s a good, quality teacher,” he said. “The academic impact of losing that teacher, I don’t know if you can measure that. If you find somebody of quality to come in after them, great, but sometimes it takes that new teacher a little while to get acclimated. So while there’s a financial burden on a district, to me, that can be overcome. But that academic impact for students, I think, is just as important to remember.”
The grants will show that the district cares about new teachers and is willing to invest in them, Roberts explained. “We don’t think that just $1,000 is going to be the difference between someone staying and leaving. We see that as one part of the larger effort for teacher retention,” he said.
Roberts said the ideal candidate would be a newly certified teacher who is a Carroll County High School graduate, making it more likely he or she would stay.
The grants, which teachers must apply for competitively, are just one part of the district’s strategy, which also includes mentoring. Roberts said the district wants to eventually get the community “to take ownership of this” and perhaps provide incentives to teachers because they are assets to the area.