Teacher turnover up in many East Texas districts
Feb. 4, 2014 at 10 p.m.
Martha Dalby loves teaching so much she's been in the profession for 33 years.
Her entire career has been spent at Hallsville High School, where she educates young minds about everything from Julius Caesar to persuasive writing. She's observed cycles and trends in education and in 2012-13 was one of about 69 teachers in Hallsville ISD with more than 20 years of experience that she hopes is beneficial to her students and peers.
"When you stay in a district like this, you get to see the cycles. I'm not teaching children whose parents I also taught - I work with people who I taught. Sometimes you see a student who struggles a lot in school, but when you meet them later in life, they've become somebody different," Dalby said. "I've also seen what works and what doesn't. I can say 'We tried this' and tell what happened. I hope my continuity gives me something I can share with others."
Across East Texas, the number of teachers who left school districts in 2012-13 largely increased compared with the year before, along with the state average. The biggest change for many districts was a loss of experienced teachers as, officials said, baby boomers are entering retirement territory.
The state teacher turnover average for 2012-13 was 15.3 percent. Longview, Pine Tree, Spring Hill, Gladewater, Sabine, Gilmer, Ore City, Henderson, Tatum, West Rusk County Consolidated, Overton and Marshall ISDs all exceeded the state average, with Overton and Marshall having the highest turnover rates in the area of 30.2 percent and 28.8 percent respectively.
Hallsville, a 4A school district in Harrison County, was the largest school district in the area that maintained a turnover rate below the state average.
"Hallsville ISD offers training for new teachers, mentors to partnership with them and co-teach settings. Groups, called pods, are teachers who teach the same children yet different subjects. That also is a way for staff to work together and draw from each other's strengths and ideas to assist children in a very productive setting," said district spokeswoman Carol Greer.
She noted Hallsville ISD writes its own curriculum for all of its subjects and offers stipends for extra duties and lead teachers, such as Dalby who is the high school's English department chair and lead teacher. The district's education foundation offers grants to teachers to assist with funding special projects that are not included in Hallsville ISD's regular budget. The district also offers competitive salary rates, Greer said.
All of those measures are targeted at retaining experienced teachers, whom East Texas school officials said are invaluable.
"There is a stability that comes in a school district once we get a plan in place with instructional strategies and teachers who are good at teaching them. There is a stability of doing that year after year," said White Oak ISD Superintendent Mike Gilbert. "It benefits the kids. It benefits the teachers to know what the teachers above them and below them need. It allows us to work in teams and to teach without gaps. We're not leaving things out because we're working together as a team."
White Oak ISD boasted the second-lowest turnover rate in Gregg County, losing 10.3 percent of its teaching staff in 2012-13. Kilgore ISD had the lowest turnover rate in the county with 9.7 percent.
Smaller districts sometimes see higher turnover rates as beginning teachers start out there, then move on to bigger schools where they can, typically, receive a higher salary. White Oak, a 2A district, also had the lowest turnover rate among its peer 2A schools. Ore City ISD, a 2A district in Upshur County, had a teacher turnover rate of 25.8 percent in 2012-13, and Tatum ISD, a 2A district in Rusk County, lost 23.2 percent of its teaching staff the same year.
"We've been really fortunate over the years to have low turnover rate. We've got people working in district that have been here a while and want to be part of the community," Gilbert said of the Roughnecks. "We've seen successes academically and with our extracurricular curriculum programs. That creates an environment that's very fun to work in. I think that has something to do with it."
He noted that this past summer, White Oak ISD sought more teachers than usual, primarily because of retirements and staff who moved out of town.
The 2012-13 school year saw a turnover spike for Pine Tree ISD, which lost 22 percent of its teaching staff that year compared with a 13.5 percent turnover rate from one year before. The district historically has turnover rates that hovered just below the state average. Five years ago, Pine Tree's turnover rate was 13.8 percent, while 10 years ago it was 14 percent.
Suzanne Shackelford, Pine Tree ISD's human resources coordinator, said the district had many teachers who retired this past year.
In an effort to encourage first-year teachers to remain with the district, Shackelford said Pine Tree ISD offers a competitive salary that starts out at more than $35,000 for a teacher with no experience. The state minimum requirement for a salary of a teacher with no experience is just above $27,000.
The district has also started a mentoring program this year for new teachers.
"We assign them a mentor teacher who meets with them throughout the year," Shackelford said. "They help them with things like the beginning of school, classroom management, discipline. We've had a very positive response to it."
Shackelford said she remembers what it was like to be a first-year teacher who needed guidance.
"There were things I didn't know existed. Experienced teachers can help," she said. "They just provide invaluable experience."
Dalby started teaching in Hallsville 33 years ago after graduating from high school in DeKalb and going to Texas A&M University. She was looking for a town that was close enough to her parents, that wasn't a big city but that provided the amenities of a city.
She picked Longview, and then applied to work at every school district around the area.
She was especially hopeful to get hired at Hallsville because the district's then-superintendent was W.C. Wooldridge, who had been the superintendent in DeKalb when she graduated. Her mother, also a teacher, had worked for him; her father served with him as a school board trustee.
"He was a wonderful school man," Dalby said.
Her decision to stay in Hallsville has for her, perhaps, been even easier.
"If you're going to work in a school, I think this is one of the best schools to work for," she said. "Even though I haven't worked in other schools, I have relatives who have, and I know other people who have. The people who work here in Hallsville are very smart, caring, fun people. I think of them like a second family."