Vail Daily column: Finding the best teachers
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a piece for this publication detailing the importance of building a competent and professional educator workforce. Noting contrasts between the conventional American approach to this important effort and those of global high performing systems, I’d like to touch on the efforts we have underway locally to build a teacher workforce of great talent and capacity — as well as some of the constant barriers we have in that work.
Raising educator quality at a system level (as opposed to a lucky hire here or there) begins with recruiting well. Arguably, this is the most important step in building the quality of any workforce.
All of our schools certainly feel the pressure of our competitive disadvantage when it comes to teacher pay. From an in-state perspective, we lag behind many Front Range districts by as much as $10,000 annually in average teacher pay. Even looking at other resort or mountain communities, we are about $6,000 behind. Similarly, we are thousands— and in some cases tens of thousands — below what educators make in other states.
This is why our initial mill levy override proposal indicates we’d put half of any resources raised through those new funds to teacher and staff compensation, with none of these funds going to senior district administration. This compensation disadvantage has been hobbling our schools for decades — we aim to do something about it.
Given the current context, it’s hardly any wonder why we struggle in recruiting and retaining teaching talent. In an internal staffing study we conducted last year, we found that approximately 40 percent of our teachers leave us because of cost of living issues related to our community versus what they are paid. Further, we found that about a third of our job offers to new recruits are rejected — once they start looking at what it costs to live here.
So, we’re feeling the squeeze on both ends — we can’t hang on to many of the talented educators we have, and much of the talent we want ends up going elsewhere because of pay.
Have we given up? Hardly! Since we currently have no major producer of educators, such as a large university program, our school district hires teachers from both inside Colorado as well as from other states around the country. We send recruiting teams to all of the major recruiting fairs in Colorado. We also send teams out of state. We have recruited teachers from Michigan, Arizona, Kansas, California, New Mexico and Puerto Rico.
These efforts are getting tougher, as fewer and fewer people are choosing to enter the teaching profession across the country. We’ve seen a precipitous drop in the number of teacher candidates we meet at these events, both in and out of state. Based solely on Colorado numbers, we’ve seen a 23 percent drop in the number of educators completing preparation programs in the state over the past five years.
When it comes to our recruiting pitch, we highlight the lifestyle advantages that come with living in Eagle County and we emphasize that this is a progressive and supportive education organization — where we care about and empower our teachers by design. We also work to make sure our recruiting materials are of the best quality and convey the sense of excitement and opportunity that living in Eagle County brings. We’ve recently won the Golden Achievement Award from the Colorado School Public Relations Association (COSPRA) for these materials.
Adding to these efforts, we’re also working to create internal pipelines of talented teachers. Through a collaborative effort with Colorado Mountain College, we’re working to train dozens of teacher candidates who already live and work in our community — many of whom grew up here, attended our public schools, and are vested in the community. We’ve also started teacher cadet programs within our high schools, to help build up this internal pipeline.
While it will be a few years before these efforts start yielding the benefit of locally grown teaching professionals, they have the potential to be game changing when it comes to hiring and retaining teaching talent.
All this effort on recruiting is aimed at allowing us to be incredibly choosy at the point of hiring, which I’ll talk about next time.
Jason E. Glass is the superintendent of Eagle County Schools. He can be reached at email@example.com.