Vail Valley: School morale up, resignations down |

Vail Valley: School morale up, resignations down

Matt Terrell
Vail, CO Colorado

EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado ” Teacher resignations are down by more than 50 percent this year for Eagle County Schools, which has classically struggled with keeping experienced teachers in classrooms.

In the 2006/2007 school year, 95 teachers resigned ” which is about 20 percent of the entire teaching staff and an exceptionally high number for a school district, said Jason Glass, human resources director.

This year ” just 41 teachers have resigned, the lowest number in years.

The drop in turnover comes during a school year filled with change. Along with hiring a new slew of administrators, the school district has raised salaries and revamped the controversial way it pays teachers based on their performance.

Those changes really have affected how teachers feel about their jobs. Morale, which has been low the past couple years, is now pretty high, said Todd Huck, a teacher at Berry Creek Middle School.

Cost of living may be the top reason teachers leave, but it’s sort of spurred along by poor morale. When teachers aren’t happy with their jobs, there’s not much incentive for them to stick around in the valley, where it’s hard to make ends meet.

“In Eagle County, we’re losing our middle class, and that goes for all professions ” but if you like your job, that means you’ll do what you can to stay,” Huck said. “Morale is up, and they’re more willing to try and stay here, hopefully another year, hopefully for their career.”

For years, teachers had a bad taste in their mouth about the pay system, which ties their salary to standardized test scores and evaluations. The program has its merits ” but teachers felt like it was being forced upon them, regardless of their opinions or suggestions to make it better, Huck said.

When the program was revamped this year ” it was done by a large committee of teachers, principals, office staff, maintenance workers and community members. Teachers felt, more than they have in a long time, that the school district is working with them to fix problems, Huck said.

Innes Isom, a teacher at Minturn Middle School, said he never felt strongly one way or the other about the pay-for-performance system. He’s looked at the changes, and they look good, but what matters more to him is the feeling that teachers are being heard.

“The nitty-gritty about how it all comes together, I’m not too up on, but it’s always nice to feel they want to help out the teachers,” Isom said.

Even with improvements to teacher pay, living here will still be tough to afford for many teachers, Huck said.

Many teachers will continue working second jobs to make ends meet, but if they’re happy, they’re more likely to stick around.

Low turnover means students are more likely to get experienced teachers in the classroom.

Studies show that teachers start becoming truly effective after their third year of teaching, after they’ve been able to refine and practice all those theories they learned in college, said Jason Glass, director of human resources for the school district.

The bad thing is that Eagle County usually loses those teachers to other school districts after those first couple years, right when they’re starting to get really good, Glass said.

“Teachers get better every year they work, so not having a brand new teacher in front a kid every year is a good thing,” Glass said.

Low turnover also means the school district gets to be more selective when finding new teachers. Glass said the district has been very aggressive in recruiting new teachers this year ” more than 400 have applied for open spots this year, close to double the number of last year.

“We have half the openings and twice as many applicants ” now we can be picky,” Glass said. “We’re not looking for any warm body that has a teaching credential to jam in a teaching job. With lower turnover, you can really choose the good ones.”

Staff Writer Matt Terrell can be reached at 970-748-2955 or

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