The Region 15 Comprehensive Center, part of the federally-funded Comprehensive Center Network, is facilitating ongoing Community of Practice meetings that focus on rural education issues. State education agency staff, district and school leadership, and education associations from Arizona, California, Nevada, and Utah have been meeting to share experiences from their states and ideas for meeting schooling challenges.
WestEd’s Senior Professional Learning Specialist Barbara Jones has been developing newsletters to share highlights and insights from these meetings. The following text is from Jones’ June 2021 newsletter, following participants sharing strategies for recruiting educators to rural schools.
Highlights from Rural CoP June Session on Educator Retention Strategies
To begin exploring the topic of teacher retention in rural districts, participants reflected in a Jamboard on the question, In a perfect world, what financial incentives would we offer teachers as a retention strategy? As you can see, offering housing was a popular idea!
To explore the idea of housing further, participants read through some additional articles on a Padlet. These articles describe various strategies districts have used to provide housing to teachers. This is a great resource to spend some time with over the summer.
The meeting included three presentations, including from the SEA, LEA, and R15 CC. Kicking us off was Jeff Briske, Director of the Office of Educator Development, Licensure and Family Engagement (EDLiFE) at the Nevada state department. He talked about the financial incentives Nevada is providing to retain teachers including:
- Tuition scholarships,
- Focus on teachers in Title 1 schools,
- Funds for teacher school supplies, and
- Investment in Nevada’s Teacher Retirement Fund.
He also shared about Nevada Senate Bill 352 that allows paraprofessionals in teacher prep programs who are conducting student teaching to stay employed and also psychology support staff completing internship hours to remain employed.
Click here to watch Jeff’s presentation.
Next was Dr. Melissa Sadorf, Superintendent of the Stanfield Elementary School District in Arizona. She presented on several retention strategies they use in her district, including:
- Preparing leaders to best support teachers, and
- Financing teachers’ and teacher aids’ continuing education.
Click here to watch Melissa’s presentation.
The third presentation in the meeting was by Gretchen Weber, Senior Managing Director at WestEd. She discussed the research on what works to stop new teacher turnover. Some strategies she says support new teacher retention include:
- Common planning time
- Professional development
- Structured time for observations and feedback
- Reduced teaching load
- Micro-credentialing for continuing education
- Job flexibility
She pointed out that, “57% of teachers said that increasing salary would make a major difference to reducing the likelihood they will leave the profession. But 43% also said that reducing administrative burdens and 31% said that smaller class sizes would be the major difference. So the financial cake is not the whole story.”
Click here to watch Gretchen’s full presentation.
Along those lines, member Sean Rickert, a superintendent in Arizona, also shared in a discussion that,
“I have never had a teacher leave my district and say, I’m leaving the profession because there isn’t enough housing in your area. I have people who, when I ask them, what’s the biggest problem with the profession? why would you want to stop being a teacher? say to me, it’s because I never feel like I’m achieving what I set out to achieve when I became a teacher, which is to be there for my students… And so when we talk about the money side of retention, I think we’re missing the big picture because nobody got into public education to get rich.”
Other participants shared different experiences, for example, Steve Larson of the Arizona Department of Education, said, “Arizona, and Flagstaff in particular, has always had teachers leave because they can’t afford to live there, and housing is a major factor.”
Members concluded that teacher turnover is a result of a combination of both financial and non-financial factors and that solutions need to address both of those including the quality of leadership. In discussion, member Kim Schaefer, a principal in Utah, pointed out that,
“I’ve been in the same school for over 20 years, I have my national board certificate. When I first came to this school, every year, we were losing about 30% of our teachers. It was a real retention issue. But, as leadership improves, you retain teachers. Then you have a nice group of veteran teachers who can mentor one or two new teachers from time to time. I like Shawn’s point about having quality education leadership. When you have it, then you have more teachers staying, which means you have veteran people in the building, which means you can support a new teacher even better.”