Stephanie Marley is one of about 185 new teachers hired in the Higley Unified School District this school year.
The sixth-grade math teacher at San Tan Elementary School in Gilbert said she chose the district because she lives in the community and heard good things about the district.
“I love my school. I love the kids, the administration, the community,” said Marley, 43, who always wanted to be a teacher and is in her third career. “I really couldn’t see any reason why I would choose to leave.”
Marley said she plans on retiring from the district, and hopes to stay at San Tan Elementary.
That’s exactly what the Higley district wants to hear.
As Higley, along with other school districts. struggles to find ways to retain its staff, the district is checking back with former employees to shed light on ways to improve staff retention.
The district will begin sending out surveys in the next couple of weeks to teachers who left last year to determine why they left and what the district could have done, if anything, to keep them, said Denise Birdwell, assistant superintendent for human resources.
“We know through research that the reasons people stay has a lot to do with the environment and the support they receive,” said Birdwell, in her first year with the district and her 26th in education. “We want to do everything we can to be supportive and moving them toward their professional goals.”
The district saw 102 teachers leave during the last school year, seven of them retirees, out of the district’s 377 teachers. That means it is retaining about 75 percent of its teachers, a percentage they would like to see increase, Birdwell said.
Among questions for which the district seeks answers:
• Are teachers taking jobs at another district, leaving to relocate, or just leaving the educational field?
• Did teachers feel supported in their job, and did they have the necessary teacher materials to instruct their students?
• If they had the opportunity to come back to the district, would they?
The district hopes teachers will start responding in the next month, Birdwell said.
“We will look at their reasons for leaving and will create an analysis,” she said. “We will report the data back to the (governing) board, and this will be a data point that we will use in our recruitment process.”
If a number of teachers who the district hired leave to move back to their home states, the district may consider scaling down its out-of-state recruitment, Birdwell said.
“Retention and recruitment go hand in hand,” she said. “You’ve got to approach what’s happening on the retention level the same time you’re recruiting.”
If teachers are leaving to pursue higher degrees, the district might consider offering a master’s or doctoral program that teachers can take after school so they’re not leaving to continue their education, Birdwell said.
“They may be more likely to stay employed, and for the district, we’re able to retain that teacher,” Birdwell said. “It will be interesting to see if this is what’s happening. I’m a firm believer that you collect as much data as you can.”
The district also wants to look internally and will survey all staff members in the spring to determine their levels of job satisfaction.
The district will also gather data on the success of its teacher mentor program to judge if it’s working to help new teachers in their first three years.
The Gilbert district uses information from letters of resignations, exit interviews that principals conduct and data gleaned from aztwc.org, the Arizona Teacher Working Conditions Survey, in its retention efforts.
Also, one of the reasons the district recently filed a lawsuit against the state regarding the Career Ladder Program was teacher retention, said Nikki Blanchard, Gilbert’s assistant superintendent of human resources
That program is a performance-based compensation plan currently providing incentives to teachers in 28 districts around the state who choose to make career advancements without leaving the classroom or the profession.
“We felt it was important that our teachers have the same opportunity for Career Ladder as other districts,” she said.
In the suit, the district argues it is at “a disadvantage in attracting and retaining good and experienced teachers” because it is excluded from the program.