The Lafayette Parish School Board approved a one-time stipend last week for teachers in high demand at certain struggling schools in a bid to reduce the high teacher turnover plaguing those schools.
The stipend would pay up to $2,000 to educators teaching math, science or English in five Lafayette schools. The stipend applies to teachers currently teaching in the schools, who are hired to teach there or who transfer to the schools for the 2019-2020 school year.
The five schools — Northside High School, Carencro High School, Acadian Middle School, Lafayette Middle School and Lerosen Preparatory School — are all currently in or preparing to exit the parish’s Transformation Zone. Carencro High won’t be classified in the Transformation Zone for the 2019-2020 school year.
Lerosen Preparatory School is an elementary through high school alternative academy for students removed from their base school because of disciplinary violations. The stipend for Lerosen teachers would only apply to educators in the sixth through 12th grades.
The Transformation Zone schools are labeled as "critical intervention required," or CIR, and are schools that have more than one year of D or F school performance scores.
Interim Lafayette schools superintendent Irma Trosclair said she hopes the stipend will place the district in a competitive position during hiring season and help fill existing vacancies while preventing teacher losses during the school year.
“We know it’s hard to fill positions in particular schools. We can’t see that and not do anything differently,” she said. “We have to get creative. We have to try to go above and beyond in doing things that’ll attract teachers to go there.”
Trosclair said the idea of a stipend has been batted around for a couple years.
First, leaders considered a stipend for school administrators, but later decided the school system needed to first focus money in the classroom. Teachers form the foundation of a school and without consistency in the teaching staff it’s more difficult for an administrative team to inspire growth across the school, she said.
The teacher to teacher and teacher to administrator dynamics can be just as important for a student’s success in the classroom as the teacher’s relationship with his or her class. You’re only able to improve on those dynamics when teachers are around long enough for changes to be made, Trosclair said.
The school system set parameters to ensure teachers accepting the high demand stipend stay in place for the semester or year.
First, the teacher must be hired or transfer into the position within 30 days of the relevant semester. Once hired, the teacher must be assigned to teach in one of the high demand subjects for at least half of his or her classroom instructional minutes per day.
The teacher must also take three or fewer leave days per semester and remain employed through the last day of the qualifying semester.
Finally, the stipend is broken into two $1,000 increments paid out at the end of the relevant semester. For the fall, the money will be paid in January 2020 and for the spring it’ll be paid in June 2020, according to the proposal on Wednesday’s board agenda.
“We need you there. We don’t just need to hire you. We need you there day in and day out,” Trosclair said.
This year, each of the five schools had vacancies mid-year and not all of them were filled. Trosclair said at Northside High School, principal Julia Williams stepped in to teach two math classes after teachers departed mid-year and the school was unable to hire replacements.
The district also sent its district science specialist to cover a physics class at the school after a vacancy opened during the school year.
School board member Tehmi Chassion, who represents Northside High School and Lerosen Preparatory School, said a girl on his daughter’s summer basketball team told him she had at least three different math teachers at Northside High this year.
“I almost wish we didn’t need [the stipend] because I’m hopeful that people would love to teach at these schools, and my alma mater, but it’s reached the point in time where we simply have to be sure we’re able to acquire and retain teachers in those key positions,” he said.
Some of the retention struggle is because math and science teachers are in short supply everywhere, Trosclair said, and Transformation Zone schools aren’t just competing with other district schools for teachers, but with other Acadiana region schools and even schools around the state.
Trosclair said persistently struggling schools may have a higher percentage of students struggling with social-emotional development or trauma in their personal lives, leading to issues with absenteeism and behavior. Teachers often step up to meet those social-emotional needs, adding both extra work and extra burden to the job, she said.
A teacher at Northside High School said some of the retention struggle also stems from the extra requirements placed on teachers in the Transformation Zone. Extra paperwork, submission requirements and mandates limit creativity and teachers’ ability to focus on instructional planning.
Tasks such as writing scripts for each class are time-consuming but ineffective, because the teachers are required to pivot as they assess students’ needs throughout each lesson and the script goes out the window, she said.
The teacher asked that her name not be shared, but she said she’s been at Northside High for more than five years. She said teachers feel like mandates from the state and school district often neglect to consider teachers’ individual voices and teaching styles in favor of uniformity.
She said the stipend is a nod to the extra work teachers in the zone are doing. It’s a positive step that might help get teachers in the door, but more effort needs to be dedicated to teacher support systems to keep them in the zone schools, she said.
“It’s a first step in them recognizing we are having to do more in these schools,” she said. “But really it’s not about the money…We just want support. It feels like we’re being micromanaged without a voice and not being treated like professionals.”
She said changing that perception is important to maintaining teachers in the long term.
The need is critical, because the constant rotation of new teachers is detrimental to students’ development. She said her students email her in a panic each time teachers announce they’re leaving, concerned she might leave them too.
“Most of these kids come from a place where they don’t have consistency at home. When they don’t get it at school either they lose their fight. They think they’re not worthy… It’s hard to be there and do your best when you feel like no one wants to be there to teach you,” she said.
Trosclair and other members of her administrative team have championed increased support for young teachers and teachers in Transformation Zone schools as a focus of their new administration. They’ve also talked about the importance of removing duplicated tasks or unnecessary work that takes away from teachers’ time in the classroom.
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This spring, the school system partnered with the Pugh Family Foundation and the William C. Schumacher Family Foundation to host the AIM Academy, a professional development and classroom management seminar targeting teachers with under three years’ experience in underperforming schools.
She said the school system plans to maintain the program for Transformation Zone teachers next year and is also developing a mentorship plan for teachers districtwide.
“We know that what’s more important than the money piece is the support piece and we’re working on that now,” Trosclair said.