Barely a year into his tenure, state Superintendent of Education Cade Brumley's agency is marked by high turnover that has gotten the attention of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.
During a recent three-month span 43 of the department's 529 employees left, including some top officials and veterans of the agency, according to state records.
The 8.1% departure rate in April, May and June of this year is nearly as high as the turnover during a 12-month period that ended June 30, 2020 – 9.28%.
"I would say it is high," said Jim Garvey, the longest-serving member of BESE.
One former department insider said that, at times, it seemed officials were leaving the department in "waves."
Garvey said the issue has been discussed among BESE members and with Brumley.
He said officials concluded that a variety of circumstances have led to the large number of departures, including the coronavirus pandemic.
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The list of those leaving include Kimberly Eckert, a Brusly educator and 2018 Louisiana Teacher of the Year who was hired last year to be deputy assistant superintendent for educator development.
Others include Alexis Pritchard, deputy chief of staff for the executive office; Vicky Thomas, confidential assistant to the superintendent; Sara Delano, executive director for educator workforce and Ted Beasley, spokesman for the department.
Aarika Dorsey, a 10-year veteran of the department, left her job as director of human resources.
Kathy Noel, deputy assistant superintendent for assessments, accountability and analytics, said earlier this year she would be leaving the department after a short stint but later agreed to remain as a part-time employee.
Noel's post is especially vital for processing results of Spring testing, which has sparked controversy on whether the state will issue letter grades for schools and districts this year.
Andrew Shachat, another key official in Noel's office, has also left. Shachat was director of accountability, policy and analytics.
Brumley, who began the job in June 2020, said the turnover is in line with employment shakeups around the country sparked by the pandemic.
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"The great resignations hit America and our agency has not been exempt," Brumley said in an interview. "I think every businessperson knows the staffing challenges right now due to workforce demand exceeding supply."
Brumley said his top priority has been public schools statewide, which closed classrooms near the end of the 2019-20 school year, then grappled with reduced in-person attendance during the 2020-21 school year as the effects of the pandemic eased.
"Admittedly, I have focused more on supporting our 1,700 schools through the most challenging year in history rather than warm and fuzzies in my own agency," Brumley said.
Eckert, who was traveling in Kenya and could not be reached for comment, was described as unhappy with her state post.
Pritchard, a mother of four married to an educator and a resident of St. Bernard Parish, said she left her state office for the only job that could have convinced her to do so -- director of communications for the St. Bernard Parish School District.
She said the turnover is typical when the agency undergoes a change in leadership.
"Any administration takes time to work out the kinks," Pritchard said. "For this administration that is incredibly difficult to do through a global pandemic."
Delano, who worked at the department for 5 1/2 years, took a higher education job in Dallas.
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Beasley, who was Brumley's spokesperson in the Jefferson Parish school system before taking a state post, returned to the Jefferson Parish School District and said he prefers working in a single school system.
BESE President Sandy Holloway said the turnover mirrors trends elsewhere.
"I feel that what you are seeing at the department is a combination of natural attrition, the transition that comes with most state agency leadership changes and a national trend of increased resignations as we inch closer to being post pandemic," Holloway said in a text message.
"The end of the school year is also a common time for education professionals to make career shifts," she said.
"You always want to keep talented individuals on your team for as long as possible but this can also be viewed as an opportunity to optimize agency talent and ensure greater organizational alignment with the department's priorities," Holloway said.