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School brass: Teacher, admin retention a problem

By Staff | Oct 9, 2015

Finding and retaining qualified teachers and administrators is one of the greatest challenges faced by the School District of Lee County, officials said this week.

Newly appointed Superintendent Dr. Gregory Adkins said the district is trying to develop a quality career ladder for administrators because it wants to have their most talented staff in school buildings.

Dr. Angela Pruitt, human resources executive director, said next to teachers in the classroom, leadership is the second factor that has impact in terms of school success.

This is especially true with challenging schools, or schools that are in need.

“The research is clear that it is a dynamic leader or principal that allows that school to come out of that status and be success overall,” she said. “It isn’t just about the school leadership. The research is also very clear that there needs to be support at the district level in terms of having programs and things in place to support principals and school leaders to be successful.”

Christine Christensen, compensation and recruitment director, said there are four compensation components in the administrator salary schedule. The first is salary adjustment, which has been removed because administrators will not receive a salary adjustment this year.

Another compensation component touches upon retention of school level and student enrollment size supplements for principals appointed to an administrator on assignment position. Christensen said the school based administrators who are asked to assist an assignment position often receive a reduction in pay when they move to the district based position because they lose their student size supplement and school enrollment.

“So the incorporation of this language into the salary schedule would allow them to maintain those supplements for the duration of their assignment,” she said, adding this does not mean that when a district based position opens up and is applied for, the supplemental pay scale still applies.

The fourth component is the principal coach supplement, which is currently for the TIF schools. A principal must be located at a TIF location to receive the principal coach supplement; have four or more years of experience as a principal; must have completed principal training within the last three years and received an effective or highly effective evaluation rating.

“The supplement will be paid up to $3,000. Two thousand will be paid upon acceptance of the position and the remaining $1,000 will be paid upon the coached principal receiving a highly effecting rating,” Christensen said.

Another component of recommended changes were in regards to new job descriptions and positions – turnaround principal and senior turnaround principal.

Adkins said the position is for a principal that has had experience coming in and turning around a struggling school and someone who has done the job once and so has the experience.

“But now we have a new challenge for them, so instead of just paying them the same and pushing them off to a new challenge, it actually compensates that person at a little bit of a higher rate,” Adkins said.

This will help the district retain talent in the building instead of coming down to the district as the only way to move up the ladder, he said. The new position would reward an individual that stays in the building, remaining on the front line fighting the good fight.

Christensen said the committee identified the need and opportunity to become one of the first districts in Florida to have specific job descriptions and positions for turnaround principals.

“In order to be eligible for a turnaround principal position, the administrator must be an experienced principal and have received an effective or highly effective evaluation rating. In order to be eligible senior turnaround principal an administrator must have previously led a successful turnaround school and have received an effective or highly effective rating,” she explained.

Adkins said they want to avoid the use of principal on assignment or administrator on assignment, if at all possible.

“We would much rather use the job description process to actually describe what the job would be before bringing the person down into a position,” he said.

Adkins said they are not moving forward with a salary adjustment at this time. They are interested in trying to move forward with what they need to do for their turnaround schools.

Board Member Steve Teuber said he likes the direction the district is heading, but they are going way too slow and way too inferior.

“For any successful organization we have to have the power at the spokes. You can’t have the power all at the hub, it just doesn’t work. We are just too big to have the center power thinking they can control everything that needs to be done in a district of the size that we have. We have to push the power to our schools. We need the best, not just the good, we need the best in our schools,” he said.

All of the money is “downtown” and it should be the other way around, Teuber said.

“The money should be in the schools. The highest paid person should be our superintendent. Our second highest paying person should be our principals, period. Everybody should be wanting to be in the schools because they are the ones that make the difference. They are the ones deciding, assisting our teachers and helping our kids,” Teuber said. “I applaud this cabinet for doing this, but don’t take baby steps. We need to fix Lee County because it’s broken.”

Board Member Mary Fischer said they need to have a plan that supports and retains the district’s best talent, such as teachers and young administrators.

“I question our process. Is it the best it can be? Are we losing good talent,” she asked. “I would like to see us review the process and to also give people opportunities to have input. We have a tremendous turnover and what we are doing isn’t stopping that. We need to find a way to identify the talent, nurture them, support them and retain them.”

Adkins said hiring and retaining talent is their No. 1 challenge.

“We are going to have to think outside of the box in order to attract these people to Lee County and keep them here. We want them in our most challenging schools,” he said. “We have to design our career ladder to get good teachers here, keep them in the classrooms and reward them for being in the classroom.”