09/01/09 — Keeping teachers still focus for district

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Keeping teachers still focus for district

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on September 1, 2009 1:46 PM

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Chaundler Vaughn, a kindergarten teacher at North Drive Elementary School, works with her students during class. This is Ms. Vaughn's third year of teaching. School officials say they are committed to efforts to recruit, as well as retain, classroom teachers.

As a new school year gets under way, officials are working to keep teachers in place.

In the midst of a budget shortfall -- and despite vacancies left by retirees being filled in time for classes to resume -- the teacher shortage is alive and well, said Marvin McCoy, assistant superintendent for human resource services.

"If all of the people that were at retirement age should retire today, school systems across America would be crippled because of the reality of the teacher shortage," he said.

Ongoing efforts have been in place with the Chamber of Commerce and business partnerships poised, he said, "to do whatever is necessary to recruit and retain highly qualified teachers."

Of late, the economic downturn might help with drawing in teachers, McCoy said. But that's a short-term fix.

"After the dust settles, we'll be back in the same mode," he said.

The chamber's Education Committee has been soliciting area businesses to offer incentives for incoming teachers as well as current teachers to help with the retention process, McCoy said.

Internally, the school system is also working hard to keep educators in place.

Human resources introduced TLCs, teaching and learning coaches, to offer mentoring support. Lead teachers provide on-site assistance for new teachers to alleviate their being overwhelmed in the classroom.

It's a change to the district's previous mentoring program, which tapped into peers at the schools where each new teacher worked. Because mentors also had to juggle their own responsibilities, the effort became time-consuming and difficult to manage, McCoy said.

Now, the mentoring support is being provided for all the schools, for new teachers as well as principals. But it doesn't stop there.

"It's also for the veteran teacher -- more than five years -- if they are in need of assistance, they can also receive assistance," he said.

The emphasis is mostly on the first-, second- and third-year teachers, McCoy said.

"A tremendous amount of research shows that new teachers will generally leave between three and five years," he explained. "That's why we're endeavoring to keep them by providing the necessary support that's needed."

The main reason they leave, he said -- working conditions.

So with the mentoring aspect comes training essential to keep educators confident and committed.

"With the training comes the classroom management, because student behavior is part of the 'working conditions' so we teach them how to manage this," he said. "Classroom management helps because it helps you psychologically. We're trying to give the teachers knowledge that will help with their skill sets."

Part of the challenge of being a teacher these days goes beyond the academics, beyond the school walls, McCoy said.

"We can work in the schools, but we only have (students) six out of the 24 hours. What's going on the other 18?" he asked. "Educators are doing the best they can with what they have, but once (students) leave our supervision, what can we do? We're being required to do more but time is never increased.

"We can't change that factor. That's going to be there so we deal with it and we do the best that we can with what we have to work with."

It's definitely a collaborative effort, he said. Between ongoing trainings for different levels of teachers and bolstering the incentives package, there are an array of other hurdles before the district -- a hiring freeze on teachers, for one.

By contrast, Wayne County is faring better than some districts, which experienced drastic cuts in personnel when the state budget ax fell.

"We had a high number of retirees, so were able to fill those vacancies (we had)," McCoy said.

Nan Barwick, assistant superintendent for finance, agreed.

"We truly have not had a RIF (reduction in force, which translates to terminating teachers when there's no funding for the position)," she said. "Through retirement and resignation, we just have not filled those particular vacancies as well as those teachers that were double-dipping (after retirement). We had to look at, naturally, where the need was that we had to shift people around and fill those particular slots."

To shore up the future teaching pool, staff already in place, particularly instructional assistants, are encouraged to return to school to become teachers, McCoy said.

"The bottom line is we're working to provide support for new teachers so that we can retain the highly qualified teachers," he said. "We do have tremendous support from the community, the chamber, that will set Wayne County apart from others.

"We're looking for the end results of our teacher turnover rate to drop. We have been keeping pace with the other counties."