Hiring great teachers can be tough for any school district. But retaining them sometimes proves to be an even greater challenge

Pitt County Schools has seen improvement to its teacher retention rate thanks to six new leadership pathways created as part of the Recruit, Retain, Reward initiative.

The initiative — also referred to as the R3 Framework — recruits, retains and rewards highly effective teachers by creating “teacher growth opportunities” to engage in advanced professional learning, according to Tom Feller, the director of professional learning and leadership development.

In the past four years, the district’s teacher turnover rate has exceeded the state average, according to Feller and Seth Brown who help implement R3 at the district level.

“The goal is to keep teachers in the classroom,” Feller said. “Some things we can’t control — if you get married and move for example — but a lot of things we can control.”

On thing officials are working to control is the departure of young teachers from the district. Over three years, Pitt County Schools retains about 39 percent of its beginning teachers.

The Key BT program, which started in 2014, attempts to stem that departure rate. The program allows promising beginning teachers to receive specialized training in how to be collaborative leaders and supporters.

Among those who have participated in the Key BT program, the retention rate is 74 percent.

“The key thing is that the (Key BT) program almost doubles that retention rate,” said Brown, the director of educator support and leadership. “That is a success for the kids and the future of Pitt County Schools, even though the numbers are not where we want them to be.”

Brown admitted he was shocked by the beginning teacher retention rate.

“We lose about 20 percent of our (beginning teachers) every year, and that number has gone down over the last seven years,” he said. “We’ve never tracked the retention rate over a three-year period before. This number is looking at something different than what we’ve ever talked about before.”

More initiatives

In 2016, Pitt County Schools was awarded $21.1 million in state and federal grants, which has allowed the district to create other new pathways for leadership.

The Teacher Leadership Institute was launched in 2016. It is a four-year program with two-years focused on “intensive, advanced professional leader” and two-years focused on financial and mentoring support for the participants to pursue certification by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, according to Feller.

District-wide retention of professional teachers —those who have taught for four or more years — is at 85 percent. That number is 98 percent for Teacher Leadership Institute participants.

“What we’re starting to see here is that those who are participating are starting to see some positive impacts,” Brown said.

Of the 50 graduates of the institute, 31 are pursuing National Board certification and 13 already are certified.

In 2017, the R3 initiative introduced two new job descriptions: facilitating teachers and collaborating teachers.

Facilitating teachers are highly effective teachers who are trained to lead two collaborating teachers while maintaining their status as a full-time classroom educators. These teachers receive a 15 percent pay increase above their base salary. Collaborating teachers are mentored by the facilitating teacher and receive an annual supplement of $1,200.

According to the Friday Institute surveys, 93 percent of facilitating teachers and 73 percent of collaborative teachers indicated that they decided to remain classroom teachers in Pitt County as a result of this program.

“The majority of teachers who participated in the Key BT and (Teacher Leadership Institute) pipeline programs since their inception have remained in Pitt County Schools. Furthermore, most (facilitating teachers) and (collaborating teachers) agreed that these teacher leadership opportunities influenced their decision to remain in Pitt County classrooms,” the R3’s annual report stated.

Multi-classroom teacher and co-teaching programs were started this year, and Feller and Brown do not have data on them yet, but have received positive verbal feedback.

They shared data from the 2018 Teachers’ Perceptions survey that indicated the programs were helping.

Eight-five percent of teachers districtwide said they felt recognized as educational experts; this was up from 79 percent in 2014. Eighty-seven percent felt trusted to make sound professional decisions about instruction, up from 82 percent.

Less than 1 percent said they expected to leave the field, which was down from 4 percent in 2014.

“These two highlights went up a statistically significant degree from before the grant to after the grant,” Brown said. “Right now, we’re finding out that retention is where we’re getting our claws in. Recruitment will come as the program proves itself.”

For more information or to see the R3 Framework annual report, visit www.successforeverychild.com and click on “Publications.”