When Longview ISD schools open Monday, about 140 new teachers will welcome students into their classrooms.

The district lost about 25% of its 584 teachers after the 2018-19 school year. That’s above the state turnover average of 19.5% for a district with between 5,000 to 9,999 students, according to the Texas Education Agency. That state number is for the 2017-18 school year, the latest data available.

Superintendent James Wilcox said a big factor in the turnover is Longview ISD is doing things other districts in the state are not, and some employees did not want to do the extra work involved.

“That requires extra training, extra effort, and we’re planning on giving you extra compensation for that. Well, some people, quite frankly, just don’t want to do the extra work,” Wilcox said in reference to increasing Montessori, International Baccalaureate and other programs. “They don’t want to change the way they’ve been teaching or they don’t want to learn a new way to deliver instruction, and if that’s the way you feel, then Longview’s not the right place for you.”

However, according to interviews and letters of resignation obtained by the News-Journal, about 15 employees who completed the interviews indicated part of the reason they left was because of a hostile work environment.

Lauren McCoy, who taught fifth grade at Johnston-McQueen Elementary School, was critical of the district’s top administration.

“From what I experienced for three years there, I would say it is not a teacher issue; the teachers are really strong, good teachers, and I would not say it’s a principal issue because the principals I had did the best they could,” she told the News-Journal. “I think the upper admin either doesn’t care or doesn’t listen to teachers and principals about where the issues are at.”

One of those issues, McCoy said, is discipline.

“When kids are disrupting class, you don’t always have support to immediately take them out,” she said. “The repercussion issues are not very serious or stern, so the kids continue to act out. They’re not getting severe consequences because principals don’t have the support they need, which trickles down to teachers.”

Wilcox said he views the comments about a hostile work environment as employees not being willing to do extra work.

“If you feel a hostile work environment is requiring you to change the way you’ve been doing things, and if you feel a hostile work environment is requiring you to get additional certifications when you’re already a professional — I will not take that away from anyone. They are already professional employees, and oftentimes when you’re professional employees and you’re asked to change the way you work in your profession ... you’re unhappy with that,” Wilcox said. “And if you want to consider that a hostile work environment, that’s just what you have to do.”

Christa Pickett, a former fourth-grade teacher at Johnston-McQueen, said she felt a lack of support from the district.

“As a teacher, and especially as a new teacher, I did not feel I got a lot of support that was needed when it came to anything really,” she told the News-Journal.

About five pre-K and kindergarten teachers left Johnston-McQueen after the 2018-19 school year, almost all indicating in documents they did not want to go to a Montessori style of teaching.

Cassie Hood is one of those teachers. She moved to Pine Tree Primary School, where she will teach traditional kindergarten.

“I myself and all the kindergarten teachers at (Johnston-McQueen) all found out about having to move to Montessori through Facebook; we were kind of hurt by that,” she told the News-Journal. “I didn’t want to go to Montessori for several reasons. I’m a traditional type teacher. That’s just not my teaching style, and I didn’t want to be forced to go over there.”

Despite losing staff after getting rid of traditional pre-K and kindergarten in the district, Wilcox said he still believes it was the best decision because research shows Montessori education improves the performance of minority students. The International Baccalaureate organization also recommends Montessori.

“LISD feels like an early intervention program, in this case Montessori, that has decades of research showing the positive impact on low-(socio economic status) students and the positive impact it also has on gifted students into accelerating them into a higher performance academic program like International Baccalaureate, we don’t know of another program that has this kind of research and professional recommendation in history for both poor students and academically gifted students as Montessori,” he said.

Johnston-McQueen lost 19 teachers. The campuses that lost the most were Longview High School with 29 and Judson STEAM Academy with 22 .

According to staff turnover data provided by the TEA, in 2018-19, Longview ISD lost 246 total employees, up from 241 in 2017-18 and down from 259 in 2016-17.

Longview ISD teacher turnover figures from 2017-18 and 2016-17 were not immediately available.

“All we want is a professional or a support employee that wants to come to Longview ISD and understand that we are going to accelerate the delivery of instruction to our students, and we’re going to make a difference in their lives and we’re going to change the legacy of their family, and that’s our mission,” Wilcox said. “In military terms, the mission is always more important than the team.”

He said it is important to provide the education the district thinks is best for its students.

“I’m not being disrespectful of anyone, I’m not disparaging anyone,” he said. “We feel like we have approximately 9,000 students in this district, and this is the only educational experience that they’re going to have at the elementary or high school (level) ... and we just want to give them the best thing available.”