Lafayette sees drop in teachers retiring, resigning but concerns about staffing remain _lowres

Advocate staff photo by BRYAN TUCK -- Lafayette Parish Association of Educators Rodolfo Espinoza speaks on school calender reform during the Lafayette Parish School Board meeting Wednesday in Lafayette.

Fewer Lafayette Parish School System teachers resigned and retired in the last school year compared to the past few years, records show, but staffing remains a concern.

More than 300 teachers resigned annually over the past few years, leading one local teachers group to call the exodus a crisis for the school system. But while teacher turnover for 2014-15 dropped to about 8 percent compared to nearly 14 percent and 15 percent in the prior two school years, the school system still struggles to fill vacancies — a signal that the crisis isn’t over, said Rodolfo Espinoza, president of the Lafayette Parish Association of Educators.

“I would say the situation is very much still in crisis,” said Espinoza, who teaches at Lafayette High. “The fact that we still have empty positions at the beginning of school — double digit positions still open — really demonstrates how difficult it is right now to find teachers.”

In 2014-15, a total of 106 teachers resigned and 79 retired, based on information from the school system’s human resources director Bruce Leininger. In 2013-14, 158 teachers resigned and 178 retired, while in 2012-13, a total of 179 resigned and 170 retired, based on information from Leininger.

The school year started on Aug. 13 with at least 13 positions filled by substitute teachers. Superintendent Donald Aguillard said Friday that “we’re at nearly 100 percent on staffing” though two high school positions may need to be added in specialty areas.

In recent years, the Lafayette Parish Association of Educators pointed to the high attrition rate in the parish as a sign that teachers are unhappy with educational policy changes — teacher evaluation system, overtesting of students and the implementation of the Common Core standards.

Last year, the organization reviewed retirement and resignation data and found that more teachers had resigned between January 2012 and December 2013 compared to the prior three-year period from January 2009 to December 2011. The organization found that 343 teachers had resigned between January 2012 and December 2013 compared to 225 resignations filed between 2009 and the end of 2011.

As required by the state, the school district started logging the reasons why teachers opted to resign. Among Lafayette Parish teachers, personal or family care issues, jobs with another school system or relocation due to a spouse’s job charted among the top reasons in the past three years. In 2014-15, at least 12.4 percent or 13 of the teachers who resigned indicated that work pressures prompted their departure.

“Although there is a general sense of hopefulness with the new superintendent, the conditions that caused the crisis are still in place: an accountability system that drives testing mandates, test prep mandates and standardization across the district and across the state,” Espinoza said.

Aguillard, who’s been in his position since mid-May, said the reasons for the slow down in retirements and resignations are unclear.

“I’d like to think that it’s because there’s some more stability with a new board in place since January and the focus on student achievement and the goal of helping principals and teachers address their needs immediately,” Aguillard said. “The staff has been incredibly robust in trying to resolve any issues that may be raised by the schools.”

There’s also been less emphasis on the value-added model evaluation system that tied teacher evaluations to their students’ performance, Aguillard said.

“We’re moving away from this rigid use of student data to drive teacher ratings and more toward what principals see and observe from visiting classrooms regularly. I think we’re seeing the benefit of that logic right now,” Aguillard said.

Carencro Middle School teacher Juanita Hill said it’s possible teachers do feel more secure with changes in school system leadership. In November 2014, the then-board fired former Superintendent Pat Cooper and appointed career and technical education director Burnell LeJeune as interim superintendent.

The board planned for LeJeune to remain in the position through the 2015-16 school year; however, LeJeune opted to retire this summer, setting off a search that led the board to hire Aguillard.

LeJeune had a reputation as a listener and consensus builder, said Hill, who is the president of the Lafayette Parish chapter of the Associated Educators of Louisiana.

“When Burnell came, there was a big sigh of relief,” Hill said. “They didn’t feel like they were discouraged as much. Burnell took time to listen. Because of the person he is, he’s had a track record of support for teachers.”

Hill said in the past few years many teachers grew frustrated with discipline issues and a lack of support in how to handle problem students in their classrooms.

Aguillard said the school system is working with the University of Louisiana at Lafayette’s College of Education to apply for a Louisiana Department of Education grant focused on new teacher training and professional development for newly hired teachers.

Follow Marsha Sills on Twitter, @Marsha_Sills.