Friday, May 1, 2015

Last week's School Board session: observations

The Collier County School District (CCPS) is doing a great job of recruiting and retaining teachers, but is also aware of and working on areas that can be done even better.

These are my key take-aways from the excellent presentation by Deborah A. Terry, CCPS Assistant Superintendent, Human Resources, and Ian Dean, CCPS Executive Director, Human Resources, at the April 21 School Board Work Session on teacher recruitment and retention:

Teacher Recruitment
  • CCPS’s 9.1% teacher turnover rate is significantly below the 13% national average.
  • 278 teachers, on average, must be hired each year.
  • Recruiting is done both within and outside Florida.
  • “Grow our own” efforts make current CCPS students aware of career opportunities in the District.
  • Efforts are made to increase employee diversity to mirror student demographics as recommended in the last accreditation review, but challenges are great and more remains to be done.
  • Recent state laws (e.g. tying teacher evaluations to test results; eliminating professional service contracts (“tenure”); new state assessments) have increased recruitment challenges.
  • CCPS has the fourth-highest starting-teacher salary in Florida ($40,400), employer-paid health insurance (though not family members), and opportunities for supplemental pay and professional development. Compensation competitiveness vs. other states was not addressed. 

The success of CCPS’s recruitment efforts is demonstrated by its five-year average of just 6.4 vacancies out of 44, 410 instructional positions (0.014%) on the first student day. By comparison, Lee County’s average first-student-day vacancy rate (0.038%) is almost three times higher; Brevard County’s (0.138%) is ten times higher.

Teacher Retention
Retention strategies focused on keeping teachers in the District include:
  • “class of XX” groups to help teachers entering CCPS each year to connect with other teachers and the community
  • mentorship programs
  • recognition programs

Retention strategies focused on keeping teachers in the same school within the District include:
  • school leader evaluations tied to measures of school climate and the extent of shared decision-making

Several teachers addressed the Board during the public comment portion of the meeting. These are some of the concerns they expressed:
  • A need for more diversity, to “make the teacher group more representative of the students.”
  • The particular challenges faced by teachers in Immokalee, including a lack of quality child care and “constant” principal rotation.
  • A desire to be “validated as professionals, to know what they think and do is important.”
  • The insecurity and fear caused by annual contracts, putting teachers “at risk of not being renewed at the end of every year.”
  • A request to “focus on retention as much as recruitment…. Bring back programs [like tuition reimbursement and professional service contracts] that invest in teachers, and trust us to be the professionals that we are in the classroom - who do not need to be micromanaged.”

As informative and, in some cases, impassioned as the comments from teachers were, I was most moved by the remarks of the last speaker, who referred to herself simply as “a citizen.” I transcribed her comments from the online recording and include them here:
As you know…, the most cited reason for teacher turnover is work conditions, and the main reason teachers are dissatisfied with their work conditions is because they do not have a voice or input in the key decisions. Under the current operating conditions of this Board, that point is only magnified by what has been occurring at recent meetings: a School Board that cannot work together because two members in particular obstruct and challenge policies and motions, which compromises operational efficiency and paves the way for removal of accreditation.

Case in point: at the April 14th School Board meeting, public comments were delayed for almost 30 minutes because they were discussing policy changes to [the Public Comments policy] when those changes had already been decided at the previous School Board meeting. And yet, their priority is the students.

A School Board member in less than 30 minutes at that same April 14 School Board meeting brought up the word “lawsuit” six times in an effort to intimidate those who may oppose her. Other speakers jumped on the bandwagon so by the end of this one meeting the word “lawsuit” was used 11 times…. And yet, their priority is the students.

The same … community members … who stand behind this podium and twist bible quotes to frighten opponents in some holy war they perceive is playing out at a secular public School Board meeting, demanding less teacher input by calling for more censorship of curriculum, textbooks, and removing “filth” from classrooms … and having “naughty” teachers fired…. Yet, their priority is the students.

The local newspaper enables these bullies by assisting them in publicly condemning these teachers. (By the way, the second most cited reason for leaving the profession is teacher-bashing in the press.) Yet, their priority is the students.

What voice or input does a teacher have in this type of environment?

To recruit and retain teachers, become a model School Board that works together to earn and maintain credibility through accreditation. Work for student advancement, not for political agendas. Keep zealots out of textbooks, curriculum and the classroom. Work to support our teachers and better our schools, rather than humiliate and denigrate them.

By the way, the number one reason that teachers become teachers? They want to make a positive difference in the life of their students. And most of them do.

I am glad to know that community members and teachers are paying attention to what’s happening in our District and at School Board meetings. Their votes will be important next year, when two Board seats will be up for election.

At the same time, I am saddened to think that teachers, school leaders, District staff and our superintendent have to endure the environment so well-described by the last speaker.

It makes me appreciate them that much more.

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