Crowd, administration debate teacher turnover

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Parents of Kilgore students told the KISD Board of Trustees Monday they wanted to know why teachers were leaving the district in high numbers. Superintendent Cara Cooke told them there was no cause for alarm.

Emily Arp, who served on the KISD Academic Improvement Committee, expressed concerns about a lack of support for teachers and for students who excel academically.

Arp said she would like to see the district “supporting our teachers more on the UIL side of things to get more children involved in the academic side and then getting them the materials that they need to compete at a higher level.”

Shannon Thompson, a substitute teacher for KISD and father of KISD students, said he was troubled by the high number of teachers leaving the district and about a perceived lack of support for teachers from the district.

“What can be done to help teachers? What can be done to allow learning to take place without the distraction of discipline problems? This is a huge concern for parents,” Thompson said. “There are exit surveys in place for those teachers to tell their reasons for leaving. Who reads these? The principals and the superintendent. Do the board members get a copy of those exit surveys? Not only are our teachers leaving but there are many community members that are playing a thousand-plus dollars to send their kids out of our school district.”

Thompson also gave a letter to the board describing his concerns about teachers being able to approach a principal to discuss issues without receiving backlash.

Superintendent Cooke responded to concerns about teacher turnover by saying that the situation was not as dire as it first appeared.

“For our turnover rate, we actually have the second lowest turnover rate at the high school in the past six years,” Cooke said. “The reasons for leaving that were given [by teachers] were four of them moved out of state or beyond our area. Five completely got out of education and went into other areas or just decided they didn't want to be in education any longer. One retired. One left for a promotion. Two did leave to go to other area districts and there were four that were for funding or performance issues. One was unknown, they didn't give any reasons.”

Cooke also said the district's turnover rate was actually lower than other schools in the Region 7 Education Service Center area.

“According to the TEA website, the Region 7 turnover rate is an average of 19 percent for a district. Our district averages 12 percent this year and that's usually where it sits. There was an article back in 2014 in the Longview News-Journal that talked about the teacher turnover rate and it had all the area school districts and their turnover rates but we were in the lowest percentile of the turnover rate and we still are.”

According to the Texas Education Agency website, the teacher turnover rates for Kilgore ISD from 2012 to 2016 were 10.8 percent, 9.7 percent, 18.4 percent, 16.4 percent and 16.0 percent, respectively.

Cooke said the district places a priority on retaining teachers because it is difficult to find and train new teachers. She said the school administration prefers to find out what is going on with their teachers in order to help them, rather than letting them go.

“Once again, I can't always speak to all the ins and outs of that, sometimes people leave disgruntled,” Cooke said.

Stacey Bandy, a teacher who recently left her position at KISD as a special education case manager, feels a lack of communication is a big part of the problem between Kilgore teachers and the administration.

“I think the biggest thing is that teachers feel like they aren't being listened to,” said Bandy, who previously taught in Tennessee. “At my old school, we had teams of teachers: a leadership team, a drug test team, all of the teachers had some kind of say. I just didn't feel that here.”

Bandy cited a lower rate of pay compared to her previous job as a major factor in her decision to leave her position at KISD. However, she also said low teacher morale and poor communication pushed her to consider leaving her job.

“The morale was down greatly, when I got here it was down. I hadn't seen some of the things other teachers had seen. When I started, I started to see it. When there were issues with kids, there was no clear line of communication. A lot of teachers felt that there was very little support if there were behavior issues. I had some kids who were acting up so I wrote them up and it took 28 days for it to be resolved.”

Bandy described these experiences as ongoing during her time at KISD.

“When a teacher sees that or sees the lack of response time, teachers end up trying to deal with things on their own and that's hard. You've got kids who are on the verge of adulthood and trying to help them understand, it's hard. It's not just Kilgore, it's teaching all across this country. There's a lot of disconnect,” she said.

“I don't want to say everything has been bad because it hasn't,” Bandy said. “I've had great kids, great parents, and the administration has not been horrible. It's just the administration is putting their heads in the sand.”

The superintendent said she and the school administration have plans to bring back a series of parent-teacher conferences to continue receiving input and finding solutions to parents' concerns. At the board meeting on Monday, Cooke said she would be working with the high school principal to plan the meetings.

“I talked to Mr. Presley about that. For our high school, we need to have some open forum type meetings where we can begin to have you come in with your solutions and so forth.”

On Tuesday, Cooke restated her commitment to increasing communication between school faculty, staff and the community.

“We will be having High School Idea Exchange meetings. We will be looking for dates coming up, we are going to try to have our first one in July, we are just trying to find a date,” Cooke said.

Cooke said these Idea Exchange meetings had been held in the prior year and she welcomed anyone with concerns about school issues to attend the meetings and tell the administration about their concerns.

– By LUCAS STROUGH

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