WILLIAMSBURG – As many area public schools continue to face a shortage of teachers and support staff, localities are taking aggressive approaches to slow the exodus.
The first step is appropriating raises.
The Williamsburg-James City County school board has recommended a 7 percent raise for the next school year.
For those working in Hampton City Schools, a 5 percent raise has been approved for 2022-23. Since the 2016-17 fiscal year, compensation has increased 22 percent.
In Newport News, the school board has provided raises the past eight years, with the most recent raise averaging 6.5 percent. It also has provided bonuses the past two years for all full-time staff, including $1,000 this past year.
Gloucester County included a pay raise of 5.9 percent for all school employees in its 2022-23 budget.
Samuel Eure, a local chair for the Virginia Education Association, said Virginia pays $6,000 a year below the national average, which he finds disheartening.
“Virginia shouldn’t be paying below the national average based on its economic viability and where it sits in terms of per capita income in the state and how much it funds public education,” he said.
He added it’s about what you prioritize.
“If you’re not prioritizing education to the level you should, you’re hurting the educational community,” he said.
Two other areas of concentration for local school districts are retention and recruitment.
At the Williamsburg-James City County School Board meeting May 7, Tim Baker, the senior director of human resources, addressed both.
“This year’s been different than any other year,” he said, before outlining steps being taken to address retention and recruitment.
His department analyzed teacher hiring trends the past five years, reviewed those soon eligible for retirement, spoke with student-teachers directly, and evaluated trends in teacher turnover. As a result, the school division made early offers to 37 teachers for next year, and 26 accepted. Baker said that last number usually is around five. One hundred teachers who were uncertain about staying were identified, and principals held “stay” interviews with instructional staff to glean insights on what it would take for them to remain with the school system.
In addition, WJCC personnel attended two job fairs, one in January and another in March. The first concentrated on support staff, and ten people were hired. Regarding the second job fair, which was geared toward teachers, there were 138 attendees. Fifty-six attended last year. Eleven job offers were made.
Kellie Goral, the executive director of public relations and marketing for Hampton City Schools, said turnover has been higher since the pandemic.
“As such, we continue to work on strengthening our retention strategies and recruitment efforts,” she said.
To aid in teacher retention for the 2022-23 school year, Hampton is offering a retention bonus of $1,200 after taxes for those on the teacher’s scale. The district also hasn’t raised health insurance premiums the past few years.
In Gloucester, superintendent Walter Clemons expects the attrition to be less than it was last year, although he has seen only preliminary numbers. He cited teachers and staff getting back to a sense of normalcy, and open communication.
“People knowing you care about what they’re saying and listening to them and trying to be proactive, it goes a long way,” he said.
He or members of his leadership team make monthly appearances at schools, where they visit classrooms, do walkthroughs, and talk to administrators and teachers. Being visible and accessible is important, he said.
Newport News is somewhat of an outlier. Board chair Douglas Brown said Newport News Public Schools has had an average fill rate of 96 percent the past three years. While he noted the hardest to fill vacancies are in elementary schools, there are fewer than 30 openings in a division with more than 5,000 employees.
Annual raises and keeping insurance premiums competitive play roles.
“The Board feels our consistent commitment to total quality pay creates a climate of loyalty and trust for our staff,” Brown said.
Reasons for teachers leaving the profession often are as varied as the teachers themselves. However, there are some common themes, in addition to pay.
Eure hears there is a lot of frustration because teachers are being asked to do more each year, and their plates already are full.
“The expectations to maintain discipline, take care of the social and emotional needs of the students, as well as have high test scores is quite stressing,” he said.
His anecdotal evidence points to our youth are not as mentally healthy as we would like them to be.
“I would say that’s partially because of the pandemic, partially because of all the concerns related to the world as a whole, right now,” he said. “A lot of that is transferring on to our kids, whether we wish to acknowledge that or not.”
As a result, he said, teachers are looking for less stressful jobs.
One way to prevent that in the future is to give teachers more support, which some localities are doing.
Newport News has a teacher residency partnership with Christopher Newport University and Old Dominion University, a New Teacher Institute, that is expanding leadership opportunities throughout the school division, and offering more professional development. Brown said it is the only division to offer a state-approved apprenticeship program.
Hampton has set up a five-year program that provides new teachers with mentors and opportunities to develop their craft and become teacher leaders.
Realizing mentorship isn’t a one-year deal is important, said Eure.
“Excellent mentorship from experienced teachers can minimize the overwhelming impact on new teachers,” he said. “You can’t just look at a teacher for one year and say, ‘OK, now you’re mentored.’”
It takes a new teacher about four or five years, he estimated, to become comfortable in the profession. Just when teachers have a handle on things, along come changes and it becomes a struggle to keep up with the methods and policies.
Eure said teachers shouldn’t be forced out of the profession by small things, especially if mentorship, more instruction, and some coaching could keep them in the classroom. It’s about making teachers and staff feel appreciated for what they do.
WJCC recently had an award ceremony recognizing its teachers.
“We truly have some extraordinary teachers and this year we are pleased to return to recognizing and honoring them in person,” Baker said.
That goes a long way, said Eure.
“Every teacher in every building needs to feel valued by their administrative team, and by their peers, and work together collaboratively to do all they can for the students,” he said.