May 24th School Board Meeting
We learned that 192 teachers did not return contracts. Close to 180 teachers had already informed the district that they were not returning. So, by my count, over 370 teachers are not returning. That number–which represents almost 20% of our teaching staff–is pretty sobering. As of today, the Richland One website shows 380 teacher vacancies. The actual number may be somewhat lower, but it is still staggering. And it will be tougher to fill those positions than ever before because of the overall shortage of teachers.
Of course, the teacher turnover is not consistent across the district. Even after this tough last couple of years, some schools are seeing low turnover while others see 30% and higher. I remain concerned that we aren’t doing enough to focus on these high turnover schools. As I mentioned at our board retreat, Richland One teachers leave because of school-level leadership and school climate issues at a rate four times higher than the state average. We have to address that in meaningful ways. There are so many reasons teachers are leaving the classrooms, and I certainly understand that some of the reasons are simply outside the district’s control. But that’s why I think it is more important than ever to focus on the things that are within our control. It is simply not sustainable for a school to have a 30% turnover rate year after year. That means we need to be proactive in our efforts to communicate with teachers and staff. I do not believe we should place the burden on teachers to come to us with their concerns. When we see that a school is struggling to keep its teachers, it is our responsibility to figure out what is happening. We can’t do that if we don’t include teachers and staff in the conversations.
I requested that the district provide the board with this year’s teacher turnover by school data and exit interviews (with names redacted). I think this will provide the board with vital information to guide us going forward, and I am looking forward to receiving it.
School Safety Update
Dr. Witherspoon mentioned that the district plans to create a school safety committee of stakeholders and experts. I think this is a great idea. Given the challenges in this area, I am hopeful that this committee will be created quickly and that it will meet frequently. I think such a committee could help us think more strategically about how we address school safety. At the end of the day, whatever money we spend on one aspect of school safety is money we don’t have to pay for another part of the school safety puzzle. I think it would help us to examine this through the lens of a school-wide plan so that we can prioritize the most effective strategies and then implement them thoughtfully.
The school board attended all 8 of the high school graduation ceremonies. It was a great way to show our support to each school and their students and families, and I am glad the school board has set this expectation of us. Second, I thought every single ceremony was perfect. The administration did a remarkable job with the logistics at each of these events despite the heat and the obvious challenges of putting two ceremonies on per day for four days straight.