most severe challenge to attracting and retaining the best instructors
for our schools is teacher shortages. One way or another, these
shortages affect most school systems in the state. There
is a shortage of teachers in math, science, special education,
and foreign languages. The teacher shortage is worst for schools
in locations - inner cities, rural areas, and high-crime areas
- that are often deemed less attractive places to work.
Adding to the problem is the looming issue of teacher retirements.
Nationally, we are heading into a period of high numbers of retirees
in all areas of public service. Over the next ten years, more
than 33,000 teachers will be eligible for retirement in Virginia
- over 38% of the teaching workforce. Unless we can encourage
an increasing number of new teachers into the field and retain
them, the teacher shortage will grow.
Unquestionably, Virginia needs to do more to attract high-quality
teachers. While recruiting good candidates is
important, retaining good teachers once they
enter the field is equally important. Nationwide, about one-third
of new teachers leave the profession within the first three years
of teaching, and about 50 percent leave within the first five years.
Inner cities and rural areas have unique problems in attracting
and retaining teachers, and in some areas, their turnover rate
is even higher than the national average. High turnover rates mean
extra resources must be spent each year on training and re-training.
Providing support to beginning teachers is cost-effective. New
teachers who participated in a quality, structured mentoring program
in California had a 9% attrition rate over five years, compared
to a 37% attrition rate for those who did not participate. The cost
of replacing a teacher is estimated at 30 percent of salary and
benefits. A high-quality mentoring program is much less expensive.
- Governor Warner proposed using funds from a U.S. Department of Education Teacher Quality Grant to sponsor "The Great Virginia Teach-In" - a job fair for teachers, the second of which was held in March of 2005.
- The Teacher Retention initiative has funded mentoring programs for new teachers in hard-to-staff schools during their first year in the classroom to 1) encourage them to remain teachers - and in their present locality; and 2) help them get beyond any potential stumbling blocks.
- These mentoring programs meet criteria based on nationally recognized models that have proven effective in helping new teachers. Two targeted school divisions in Caroline County and the City of Franklin have received funds specifically to provide support for beginning teachers in hard-to-staff schools, while all divisions have been given general information about mentoring.
Through annual reporting, participating school divisions will be required to show that their mentoring programs for new teachers have proven successful in increasing teacher retention.
Education reform initiatives often overlook the middle grades. Governor Warner proposed the Virginia Middle School Teacher Corps to reinforce the quality of math instruction in middle schools and help ensure that students receive a solid foundation in math as they prepare to enter high school.
The Virginia Middle School Teacher Corps provides the structure and incentives to place up to 70 experienced math teachers per grade in middle schools that have been designated as "at risk" in math. These assignments are for a three-year period.
Teachers selected as members of the Teacher Corps are dynamic teachers who have demonstrated success in teaching math in challenging environments. While their top priority is teaching, they also work with school administrators and faculty to help less-experienced or struggling teachers.
Teachers selected for the program receive training to prepare them for their new and challenging environments. They also receive incentives to join and stay in the Teacher Corps, including improved retirement benefits.
A school principal plays a critical role in setting the tone for an entire school. If a school is consistently a low-performer, that principal should be replaced.
The Turnaround Specialist program seeks to "turn around" under-performing schools with an infusion of new leadership. The program has identified people who have good skills and experience, a proven record of overcoming adversity in schools, and the authority required to initiate and lead the charge in recreating a successful learning environment.
These candidates are then put through a training program focused on business and education strategies that have proven effective in turning around low-performing organizations. Techniques include business strategies such as effective organizational management; finance and accounting practices; restructuring and renewal of troubled organizations; turnaround and crisis management; and business and education law.
Ten school administrators in 2004 and an additional 10 in 2005 have been granted the "Turnaround Specialist" credential such training bestows. Each Specialist then serves as the principal of a low-performing school for a minimum of three years.
They work under a contract with a local school system that defines their responsibilities, goals, and measures of success. In addition to the benefit of the intensive training, Turnaround Specialists are eligible for additional incentives provided both by the state and the school division in which they serve.
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