How small school districts are trying to keep teachers from leaving

Bastrop County

ELGIN, Texas (KXAN) — Recruiting and keeping teachers can be a challenge for school districts, and the problem is even more pronounced for smaller, rural districts.

Texas Education Agency data show that, in general, the smaller the district, the higher the percentage of teachers they lose each year. In Central Texas, the two districts with the highest turnover rates in the 2016-17 school year were Coupland and Elgin, which each lost more than one-third of their teachers that year, according to numbers compiled by the education data group E3 Alliance.

The Austin Independent School District’s turnover rate was 17 percent that school year.

Now administrators in districts like Elgin are taking steps to train homegrown teachers to build the sense of community in schools and keep new recruits from leaving.

“The more we can retain our teachers, the more we build that institutional memory, the more we build that culture, the more stability we have,” Al Rodriguez, Elgin ISD’s assistant superintendent of human capital, said.

The numbers this school year are looking better, he added. They hired 70 new teachers for this fall, out of a staff of about 300 teachers total. That’s about a 23 percent turnover rate.

As for why teachers are leaving, Rodriguez said it’s a combination of factors that all school districts deal with. One of the primary reasons is teachers wanting to work closer to home. This year, 70 percent of Elgin ISD’s teacher live outside the district.

“Being 20 miles east of Austin, you know,” he said, “that commute becomes cumbersome at times.”

About 30 minutes up the road, Granger ISD benefits from the community atmosphere Elgin is trying to cultivate. Teachers work in Granger often because they feel connected to it.

“I moved here about 10 years ago, and my kids actually came to school here before I taught here,” Tracy Terry, an English and language arts teacher, said.

Wednesday she was writing verbs, nouns, adjectives, and other parts of speech on big sheets of paper to hang around her room as she prepared to welcome students back on Monday. 

Teaching is her second career, and when it came time to pursue it, she didn’t have to search for the job she wanted, despite the fact that in the strictest of terms, she has to commute to work.

“Our home is in the Georgetown school district,” she said. “We are just beyond the Granger district, and I didn’t know that when we bought it.”

Granger ISD’s turnover rate was 19 percent in 2016-17, according to E3, but with very few teachers overall in the district, a single departure makes an impact.

Terry said she’d like to have more resources at her disposal, like more teachers to bounce ideas off of, but she’s not complaining. The small class sizes and family atmosphere keep her happy where she is. Granger ISD is not at risk of losing her to a higher-paying job in another district.

“I would really miss not being able to follow that kid all the way through” school, she said.

Elgin ISD, meanwhile, says their teacher pay is competitive with larger districts close by, and they offer additional training to boost pay more. Still, like any district, they’d like to see more support from the state.

“No doubt that with more resources we could do more,” Rodriguez said, “and we’d like to do that.”

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