Superintendent's suggestion sparks worry of teacher departures

tbarton@islandpacket.comJuly 27, 2013 

Parents, educators and community leaders said Saturday a suggestion made a day earlier by Beaufort County school superintendent Jeffrey Moss could drive away the most highly skilled and effective teachers and add to declining teacher retention.

Moss had suggested the district address a rising dropout rate and close racial and socio-economic achievement gaps by reassigning master teachers to work with at-risk students.

"We also need to look at our teaching staff and make a conscious decision that our most at-risk population deserves our most experienced, or master, teachers," he said on day one of a two-day retreat that focused on devising the district's new five-year strategic plan.

"I'm not naive enough to think all teachers will buy into that system," Moss said Saturday. "It is a huge cultural shift. ... (but) we should be growing every child."

Master teachers are those who have been highly effective in the classroom. They partner with principals in evaluating other teachers and provide demonstration lessons and coaching to less experienced staff members.

There were concerns Saturday that some master teachers would resist the reassignment and leave the district.

"I'm worried the response from veterans will be, 'This (assignment) is for new teachers; not for me. I've paid my dues and have earned the right to teach gifted and advanced students,'" said Bluffton town councilwoman Karen Lavery, a member of the committee guiding the strategic planning efforts.

But Hilton Head Island Middle School principal Gregory Stickel -- also a member of the committee -- contends the district's "most engaging teachers ... are working with kids who need them, but maybe not the kids who need them the most."

School board member Earl Campbell agreed.

"If we want to make sure that achievement goes up, this is what we're going to have to do," Campbell said .

Bluffton High School principal Mark Dievendorf said Moss' suggestion is similar to what is currently being done at his school. Teachers within the same department teach both advanced and basic courses, and work together to develop lesson plans, share instructional practices and analyze test results.

For example, a nationally board certified teacher may teach pre-calculus and Algebra 2 and collaborate with a younger, less-experienced teachers who teach Algebra 2, geometry or honors geometry.

"You have members of a department sharing the load, if you will, at all the levels of difficulty," Dievendorf. "Thankfully, the staff in our building is open and supportive of the idea that we spread the wealth, so to speak, in working with a variety of kids. By doing that, you enhance the level of instruction for all and the instructional abilities of the teaching staff. You're not isolating a specific teacher to a specific class or grade level.

"I think teamwork enhances the enjoyment of what you do and builds pride and commitment," he said.

He said the approach in fact enhances retention.

Resignations among district teachers, staff and administrators increased from 150 in the 2009-10 school year to 251 last school year.

Of the 96 beginng teachers hired by the district in 2007-08, 47 remained in the district in 2011-12, according to district figures.

District human resources officer Alice Walton said the state department of education recently gave the district the option to expand it's teacher induction program from one to three years. The program provides support and guidance to novice teachers in the early stages of their careers through mentoring and professional development.

"We've taken a look at that to see how we support those teachers from their first year into the second and third," Walton said. "... We need to keep good teachers in the classroom."

Follow reporter Tom Barton at twitter.com/IPBG_Tom

Related content:

School district begins charting 5-year plan; technology, college-credit classes touted: July 26, 2013

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