July 13, 2019 10:10:37 PM
Teacher retention rates improved at Columbus Municipal School District following the 2018-19 school year.
CMSD reported a teacher turnover rate of about 17 percent -- a step up from 2017-18 when roughly a quarter of teachers departed the district.
According to documents CMSD supplied The Dispatch, 48 of its 276 certified teachers had not renewed contracts by the end of the school year.
Columbus middle and high schools lost the most teachers -- 12 and 18, respectively. The rest of the schools showed single-digit turnover.
Superintendent Cherie Labat, now in her second year leading CMSD, attributes this year's improved numbers to transforming the culture of the school district to one more effectively focused on teacher support and student achievement. By implementing professional development opportunities for existing teachers and recruiting from local universities, the district has managed to boost both teacher recruitment and retention, she said.
"We really battled the perception of CMSD last year," she said, "and I think we've overcome that and have really become a district where we try to put the joy back into teaching."
She said administrators made teacher recruitment a priority.
"We really had to be innovative because of the shortage of teachers statewide," she said. "We went the whole school year without six math teachers and seven special education teachers. I've talked to stakeholders in education throughout the state and it's the same thing everywhere."
Labat believes a $3,500 signing bonus for new science and math teachers, a board-approved incentive program offering bonuses to teachers and support staff at campuses that improve their accountability ratings, and publicly recognizing administrators and staff for accomplishments have also helped retention and morale.
"We always want to recognize our district and our staff and teachers for the difference they make," she said. "Now that we've adjusted the community's perception of the district, we can continue to focus on retaining talent and encouraging our teachers. ... We believe all students have the ability to achieve at the highest academic level and that's why we're here."
Lowndes County School District
Lowndes County School District lost 69 teachers following the 2018-19 school year, but all but five of those came from a board-approved faculty reduction plan aimed at cutting district costs.
The board, at Superintendent Lynn Wright's recommendation, cut 64 positions held by first-year teachers, bringing the total number of faculty spots from 429 to 365. However, 41 of those teachers were rehired to fill other positions in the district created by attrition -- teachers who retired at the end of the school year or did not renew their contracts for other reasons -- according to information LCSD provided The Dispatch in response to a public records request.
The positions eliminated included elementary-level music and language teachers and high school-level health, art, cooking and band teachers.
"We were trying to make a choice that was best for the whole district financially and remove positions that weren't completely necessary," Wright said.
The majority of teacher positions eliminated were at Caledonia High School, which lost 18 positions, and New Hope elementary and middle schools, which each lost 10. The number of teachers who left through attrition (46) make up about a 10-percent turnover rate, which Assistant Superintendent Robin Ballard said is about average. With all but five of those vacancies filled, LCSD has so far not hired anyone from outside the district to fill them.
"We made it a priority to hire from those teachers that we previously let go (to fill the attrition vacancies)," Ballard said. "We didn't want to go outside (the district) if there were teachers that we could offer positions to."
When the school board approved the cuts in March, Wright said it would save the district about $50,000 on average in salary and benefits in FY 2020. The district has run deficits the last three fiscal years and is currently trying to pay off a $44 million bond passed in 2015 at $3 million per year on the 17-year note.
The board most recently voted to raise the property tax rate by 1.3 mills to bring in roughly $600,000 more in annual revenue.
Starkville-Oktibbeha Consolidated School District
Documents Starkville-Oktibbeha Consolidated School District provided The Dispatch show about an 18-percent turnover rate, with 67 of the district's 363 certified teachers who worked there in 2018-19 not returning in August.
In 2017-18, the district lost 57 of its teachers, according to the documents, with a turnover rate of just more than 15 percent.
Armstrong Middle School had the highest turnover this year, with 28 teachers leaving, either through retirement or contract non-renewal. Four additional AMS teachers transferred to another district campus.
That number is up from the two previous years. Seventeen teachers left Armstrong Middle School following the 2017-18 school year, and 21 left after the 2016-17 school year.
Henderson Ward Stewart Elementary lost 10 teachers -- a better number than 2017-18 when the school lost 13 teachers and significantly better than 2016-17 when 20 teachers left. Henderson Ward's accountability rating improved over the same time period, from the district's sole F-rated campus in 2017 to a C in 2018. (Accountability ratings, which are released every fall, are scores the Mississippi Department of Education gives schools and districts on an A-F scale.)
Additionally Starkville High School had 12 teachers leave after the 2018-19 school year. All other schools in the district had turnover in the single digits.
Eddie Peasant, who completed his second year as SOCSD superintendent on June 30, said the district's continued loss of teachers at AMS is a result of several factors -- most notably, a lack of specialized training for middle school educators and the unique challenges children in grades 6-8 present.
Peasant sits on the Mississippi Department of Education's Middle School Task Force, which was created to address the lack of middle school educators across the state. The task force is currently creating specialized professional development opportunities for teachers at the middle school level, he said.
"In my opinion, all our teacher training (in Mississippi) is geared toward secondary or elementary education," he said. "We need specific training for Mississippi educators. I think that's what's really lacking statewide."
Another key element for reducing middle school turnover could come from SOCSD's planned Partnership School at Mississippi State University, which will house grades 6-7 and be a training ground for MSU's education students, Peasant added. It is currently slated to open in August 2020 for the 2020-21 school year.
"We've added teaching units (faculty positions) to the (AMS) staff this year in preparation for the move when we do open the Partnership School," said Assistant Superintendent for Personnel and Operations David Baggett. "This year, we're going to focus on pairing teachers with smaller group of students and getting teachers together to talk about their students. What that does is allow the staff to better get to know their students and develop relationships with them so the staff can work collaboratively on students they may be struggling with from time to time, whether it's academic or behavioral. We think that's also going to make a big difference."
Districtwide, both Peasant and Baggett noted the district's aim to create a supportive culture for teachers, citing a mentor teacher program that pairs more experienced faculty with new teachers for support. That program, which was implemented last year, continues to be improved upon, Baggett said.
"It's definitely been showing results," he said. "We've gotten great feedback from teachers, but it's like anything else. We're always looking to improve it."
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