On Saturday, March 26th, the school board held a board retreat. The agenda is here. While the audio of the meeting was live-streamed, I do not believe it has been posted.
I won’t summarize everything, but I will discuss two highlights: (1) a presentation about academic achievement and (2) an HR presentation about reasons teachers leave the district.
Academic (Especially Reading) Achievement
There was a very effective presentation about efforts to increase academic achievement, especially in reading. The current goal is to have 80% of students in grades 3-8 meeting expectations on the various standardized tests they take by the end of the 2023-2024 school year. This sort of improvement would be huge. Currently, only 15%-20% of students meet or exceed grade-level expectations in third grade reading at many elementary schools. Research has demonstrated time and time again that these students will likely never catch up to their peers. And when students get behind academically in middle and high school, behavior issues worsen. So, I was happy to see a focus on this. This presentation–or some version of it–will be part of a future board meeting so that everyone can see it.
Why Teachers Leave
There was also a very interesting presentation by HR about why teachers are leaving the district. One category of reasons is called “External,” which includes things like a spouse getting a job that requires moving. These reasons are outside the district’s control. Statewide about 35% of teachers leave a district for this reason. In Richland One, it was about 25%. So, fewer Richland One teachers are leaving for reasons that are totally outside the control of the district.
And then I noticed another number. The category called Internal Reasons includes things like school climate and school administration. These are the types of things that a district does control. Teachers are leaving Richland One at a rate four times higher than the state average for this reason. That’s incredible to me. This is exactly what I have been trying to focus on when asking whether we are talking to teachers, especially teachers who are working at schools that are seeing high teacher turnover rates year after year. It could be that the leadership at that school is the issue. Or, it could be that the school needs more support than we are giving them. But we won’t know why unless we are doing more to get input from our teachers and staff at these schools.
I raised this pretty remarkable statistic at the board retreat. Frankly, I simply don’t see why we aren’t acting on this data. The response was, at least to me, equally remarkable. Rather than discuss this in any substantive way, I was told that the real solution is for the board to “control the narrative” and make sure we are saying positive things about the district.
I agree that it’s important to acknowledge the positive work going on in the district. But if that’s all we do, we’re not fulfilling our responsibility to the students, parents, teachers, and communities we serve.
Here’s the thing: teachers really hate it when we ignore problems they know exist. I think it’s time we start listening.