The Biggest Challenge for District Leaders? Finding and Keeping Good...


The Biggest Challenge for District Leaders? Finding and Keeping Good Teachers

By Stephen Noonoo     Aug 30, 2018

The Biggest Challenge for District Leaders? Finding and Keeping Good Teachers

After a year of teacher-led walkouts and elevated concerns over declining teacher salaries, a new survey of school superintendents cites finding and keeping qualified teachers as their highest-priority issue.

The annual survey, conducted by Gallup, polled nearly 1,900 superintendents—about 15 percent of the country’s total—on pressing concerns, student safety and their overall optimism about the future of education and student success after high school.

Largely it presents a snapshot of our time. Like other educators, superintendents are conscious of engaging students in citizenship, concerned for their safety during the school day and open to myriad possibilities about training and educating them for future jobs. They’re also attuned to today’s political climate.

“We work with superintendents on a daily basis,” says Daniel Domenech, executive director of AASA, which bills itself as the school superintendents association. “We get a pretty good sense of where they are at, and I found the report findings very much in line with what I see and hear from superintendents.”

About 72 percent of superintendents polled indicated they have little to no faith in the Trump administration’s ability to handle education policy. Yet more than half were extremely bullish about the future of their particular district.

Source: Gallup

Domenech attributes the latter to implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act, a 2015 federal law that restored accountability measures to local control. He says that’s a welcome change from its predecessor, No Child Left Behind, which placed a premium on high-stakes testing. Similarly, the poll indicated decreasing support among superintendents on the importance of standardized testing as a measure of school effectiveness.

Teachers & Students Take the Stage

According to Gallup, more than 60 percent of superintendents strongly agreed that finding and keeping talented teachers presented a major challenge. More than half of respondents also strongly agreed that helping underperforming students and dealing with the effects of poverty were likely to be challenging as well.

“There are many states having major problems with recruiting teachers,” says Domenech, noting that the issue is so severe it has trickled down to the way parents see the profession. He cites the recent PDK poll, which found widespread support for higher pay but also, for the first time, that a majority of parents did not want their kids to enter the profession.

Some districts have started taking proactive steps to stem the tide, says Domenech, by starting teacher training programs in high school, partnering with local colleges and helping to secure financial support for students who wish to one day teach in the local community.

Source: Gallup

Efforts to encourage middle- and high-school students to think about careers is hardly limited to teaching. More than 70 percent of respondents reported their districts had formed partnerships with local businesses to promote career or vocational training, although the trend is more prevalent in large or urban districts. About a third of superintendents said they had programs in place with companies to place students into full-time jobs right out of high school. Another 20 percent of school leaders said they were looking into such programs.

Among the top fields for district-business partnerships: manufacturing, skilled trades (particularly welding), healthcare and construction. “The stigma of trades is going away when you have welders with $70,000 starting salaries,” says Tim Hodges, Gallup’s K-12 head of research.

Mehlville School District, located in a small city south of St. Louis, is working hard to foster such partnerships, especially in healthcare, computer science and manufacturing. “We can’t meet the student demands in terms of business partners right now,” explains Chris Gaines, the district superintendent and current AASA president, who participated in the Gallup poll.

Recent events, such as the February school shooting in Parkland, Fla., may also have influenced how superintendents responded to certain questions, says Hodges. Slightly more of them are using armed security at their campuses than in years past, and there was a significant spike in the number of respondents who agreed that preparing students for engaged citizenship will be a challenge—possibly a nod to the current political climate and recent student walkouts over preventing gun violence.

Security is “something everyone is doing and talking about,” says Gaines, adding that local police are now making more regular stops by his campuses, and that the district is switching to a new visitor ID system, among various internal measures.

To Domenech, these attitudes on issues like security, teacher recruitment and stepping back from test scores reflect the fact that district leaders are headed in the right direction and putting student and staff needs first. “They’re trying to do everything they possibly can,” he says. “Teachers and staff need to know superintendents are there for them.”

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