Teacher turnover in district stays low this year

By Sean C. Morgan

Of The New Era

Turnover among teachers in the Sweet Home School District this year looks to be half of what has been typical in recent years.

Sweet Home School District has had eight teachers resign so far this year, the end of the 2018-19 school year.

That follows 10 teachers who resigned at the end of 2017-18. The previous year, 2016-17, 22 teachers resigned, and in 2015-16, 23 teachers resigned. Older counts of resignations and new hires have not been compiled and were unavailable at press time.

When Supt. Tom Yahraes arrived three years ago, in 2016-17, he said that some 60 percent of new teachers were leaving within their first three years in the district.

In July 2016, he staffed his first School Board meeting, he said.

“I remember seeing the first consent agenda in August. I remember noting we had a significant amount of last-minute hires for the school year.

“I asked Rachel (Stucky, director of teaching and learning) to study the hiring and retention rate,” Yahraes said. “She found that possible anomaly (60-percent turnover rate among new teachers). We needed to do a better job of hiring and recruiting teachers for Sweet Home.

“During the course of that year, we talked about it as an administrative team. I asked folks what we could do. We needed to do a better job.”

Retaining teachers is an important part in improving student success, Yahraes said.

“Statistically, in closing the achievement gap, the relationship that teachers can create with students and parents (is important).”

Turnover, training, investing in and losing teachers leads to gaps in curriculum alignment in classrooms across the district and through the grades, Yahraes said. Turnover leads to teachers working “in silos.”

“It behooves us to continue to work together, grow together and improve together,” Yahraes said.

Yahraes said that district needed to start hiring early and work on keeping teachers engaged with the district throughout the ensuing summer.

In the past, the district has hired teachers in the spring, Yahraes said, but often those teachers were still hunting jobs. A later offer would attract them away, and Sweet Home was forced to hire late in the game.

Then-Sweet Home Junior High Vice Principal Terry Augustadt pitched some ideas to Yahraes, including participating in a spring job fair, what to display at the job fair and how to execute interviews to capture new teachers before they went elsewhere.

Augustadt worked with the administrative team on ideas, and by spring 2017, the district was at a job fair looking for new teachers.

“We sold Sweet Home at the job fairs,” said Holley Principal Todd Barrett. We were working the lines while they were waiting to interview.”

District officials would tell potential hires they’ve got jobs and “a cool place to work,” Barrett said.

Barrett, who has been in Sweet Home for just four years, is all in himself.

“We moved into the community and bought a house here,” Barrett said. “This community embraced us when we moved in.”

For him, it was the perfect place, he said. He loves the outdoors and its central location close to the valley, the coast and Central Oregon, where family still lives, as well as fishing, golfing and the mountains.

“We are the gateway to the Cascade Mountains,” Barrett said. That’s a pitch that worked for him and one the district is actively using.

Sweet Home was not being passive, Yahraes said.

The following school year, the district turned over 10 teachers. The reduction in turnover has carried through to this year – so far.

The district took other action to try to keep new teachers interested in Sweet Home, Yahraes said.

“We wanted to hire early and build a plan to keep those new employees engaged over the summer as well as their first and second years,” Yahraes said. The district started providing professional development opportunities for those teachers during the summer. The district gave them their keys and a school shirt in July.

The district became “more deliberate” about its hiring, Yahraes said. Administrators targeted potential employees and have been more strategic with their recruitment.

“We explain Sweet Home,” Yahraes said. “We explain the nature surrounding the community environment.”

The district is constantly communicating with potential teachers, he said, and the district gives them Sweet Home swag.

At the job fair, “if we see somebody we’re very interested in, we get aggressive,” Yahraes said. Administrators do their interviews and make offers on the spot, signing letters of intent with teachers, with hiring contingent on follow-up background checks, reference checks and licensing.

Then the district keeps engaging them throughout the summer, Yahraes said.

“Sweet Home was on a very inefficient track hiring and over 50 percent of them would leave,” Yahraes said. In terms of retention, here in Sweet Home, “teachers can experience nationally renowned professional development programs.”

The district uses Solution Tree and other programs based on qualitative research and best practices to provide professional development, he said. “It’s the best training I believe that there is.”

The district developed teacher leadership teams, where a set of teachers are a part of the decision-making process in professional development, Yahraes said.

“We’re training administrators,” Barrett said. “We’re training teachers.”

“You can come to Sweet Home,” Yahraes said. “You can get very high quality professional development.”

“The other thing that happened is, three years ago, we addressed through collective bargaining the salary schedule for all of the teachers,” he said. “We worked together on bringing up the beginning year teachers salaries so they are competitive regionally. We worked together as a team with the administrators on a new professional growth and accountability framework.”

The teachers and district collaborated with, “in my opinion, one of the state leaders in coaching (education consultant Marsha Moyer), observation, feedback and evaluation,” Yahraes said.

Just like the district’s strategic plan, they took a cumbersome, multi-page evaluation system and simplified it to make it more effective.

“I look at the data, and I’m very pleased with the data and the possible correlation between the systems we’ve implemented and turnover,” Yahraes said.