By Madelynn Coldiron
Given the school’s track record in teacher retention, it’s not surprising that 100 percent of Wrigley Elementary’s teachers said in the 2013 TELL (Teaching, Empowering, Leading and Learning) Survey that they planned to continue teaching at that school.
“This is my eighth year as principal and I’ve only had to hire two teachers in eight years,” said Vickie Oldfield. “I guess our teacher retention is good here.”
PHOTO: From left: Murray High School math instructors Justin Scott, Sarah Hultman and Wayne Jackson share their lunch time together to discuss progress and collaborate on ideas for their respective math classes. Photo by Sherry Purdom/Murray Independent Schools
Wrigley’s TELL results placed it on the 2013 honorable mention list of 50 schools, recognized for teaching conditions, safety and student achievement in their buildings. Oldfield said mutual respect among staff and parents is a big part of why teachers want to stay at the 280-pupil school in Morgan County.
“It’s almost like a family atmosphere,” she said of the school, formerly named West Liberty Elementary.
That description is echoed by David Ward, principal of Auburn Elementary in Logan County, another TELL honorable mention school.
“We kind of see ourselves as an extension of our family here. If there are things that are going on at home, we just kind of pull together,” Ward said of the 780-pupil school.
Ninety-eight percent of Auburn’s teachers said in 2013 that they would remain at the school. Ward said one teacher commutes from eastern Warren County and another from Glasgow, well over an hour’s drive.
Murray (Independent) High School Principal Teresa Speed said the most important factor overall in teacher retention is building relationships with teachers, which she said sets an example that filters down to students.
“I want them to also turn around – and they do – and build that same relationship with students,” she said. The 430-student Murray High was one of 10 2013 TELL Winner’s Circle schools singled out from the group of 50 honorable mention schools; 96 percent of its teaching staff said they planned to stay at the school.
Support and involvement are big factors in teacher retention, said Conner Middle School Principal James Brewer, adding, however, “There’s probably no magic formula.”
“It’s just the fact that we get them involved, respect them, value their input, allow them to have a say in programs and what we do in our building. They lead their own team, so it’s not us dictating what they have to do or how to do it – it’s lets solve this together and move forward,” said Brewer, who describes the school as having “a culture of support.” The 1,100-pupil Boone County school was another 2013 Winner’s Circle honoree. Ninety-three percent of its faculty said they planned to return.
Auburn Elementary’s Ward describes that kind of support as removing barriers so good teachers can do their job, such as protecting instructional time, understanding out-of-school needs, and offering assistance. He said he also has an open-door policy, so teachers feel free to vent.
“For the most part, they feel very comfortable telling me, ‘I think you’re wrong,’ and I’m OK with that,” he said.
Speed said she values input from teachers at Murray High. “We do a lot of surveys and just a lot of ‘What do you think?’ and they appreciate that.”
Oldfield, of Wrigley Elementary, echoed that, adding it’s also important for her to be proactive and head off any issues that could affect school culture before they become problems.
Wrigley Elementary is the product of a three-school consolidation in 2007; the original building was destroyed in a 2012 tornado and classes were held in a vacant factory building while the new school was built. Both are factors in the close-knit school culture, Oldfield said.
As for retaining rookie teachers, Brewer said they are treated the same as veteran staff at Conner Middle. “We expect them to contribute, but there’s a lot of support for any of our teachers, whether they’re veterans or they’re new because they work in those close teams and they have common planning,” he said.
Murray’s Speed said new teachers, whether first-year teachers or teachers new to the school, are assigned to a master teacher “to bounce things off of, someone to keep an eye on them.” She and her assistant principal also pitch in to help.
“We all take ownership,” she said.
This is the second in a two-part feature on teacher retention in Kentucky. Last month outlined a new emphasis on teacher retention, spurred by a federal push, and what some districts are doing to keep their teachers. This month looks at working conditions that produce a stable teaching force.