We held a board meeting on February 22nd. You can view the meeting here (on the Richland One website) or here (on YouTube). The agenda mostly dealt with contracts. The public comments and board reports mostly addressed the issue of masks. The board reports begin at about the 41:24 minute mark. For some reason about which I am unaware, the public comments that were presented (and live-streamed) have been removed from the videos that have been posted.
What We Aren’t Talking About
I’m going to do something a little different with this update. I want to focus on what we’re not talking about at our meetings—the teacher and staff shortage, which is the most critical challenge we will face this year and next.
I think we need to treat the teacher and staff shortage as an ongoing crisis that merits attention at every board meeting. Of course, I understand that it is the administration’s–not the board’s–responsibility to carry out the retention and recruitment efforts. But it seems odd to me that we aren’t discussing these at every meeting. At the very least, we should get an update at every board meeting about the current teacher and staff vacancies, openings, and projected vacancies that we will need to fill before August.
I continue to hear alarming signs from school leaders about teachers we are losing. And currently, some schools are also losing overwhelmed instructional assistants at a rapid pace. Of course, these issues are not particular to Richland One, but that doesn’t absolve us of the responsibility to address them head-on.
Indeed, if anything, the challenging recruitment environment puts even more pressure on us to figure out ways to keep the teachers we already have. I have repeatedly asked whether we are speaking directly to teachers to determine whether we can do things to convince them to return next year. The answers have been vague at best. While we have been told that the administration is part of a teacher forum that meets frequently, no one has told us what we are learning as a part of that process. Are there things we as a district could be planning for next year that would convince some of these teachers to stay?
This has been the most challenging year for teachers yet. And there myriad reasons that some are leaving the profession altogether or transferring to a new school or a new district. But, as was mentioned a few months ago at the board information session on HR, teachers often stay because of strong leadership at the school level. Conversely, they leave because of weak leadership at the school level. That is borne out by what I am hearing, but teachers are afraid to come forward and talk about their experiences. We simply cannot afford to cultivate an atmosphere in which teachers quietly suffer bad leadership until they leave. We have to do more to learn about and address it.
Unfortunately, we don’t have much time. Once contracts are returned in a few months, we will certainly have a more precise sense of where we stand. But I worry by that time it will be too late. There just isn’t a large pool of teachers left, so it will be tough to fill a large number of positions over the summer.
Nothing else this board or administration does over the next six months will matter very much if we continue to lose large numbers of teachers and staff.