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Conversation on Hard-to-Staff Schools for Ed Week's ‘Quality Counts’ Issue.

Dear TNPI MetLife Fellows:

Here's a real opportunity to get your voice heard!

Teachers Network has been contacted by the Associate Editor of Ed Week--who is working on the next "Quality Counts" issue. Specifically, this report will focus on the challenge of getting highly-qualified teachers to work at--and stay at--traditionally hard-to-staff and/or low-performing schools. Noting that many such schools often have high turnover rates, they are particularly interested in hearing from YOU--the MetLife Fellows, as spokespersons for teachers nationwide--including any possible solutions you might suggest. Ed Week is also interested in hearing who among you has, for example: 1) worked in such environments and are still there (and why), 2) worked in these schools and left (and why--including what might have persuaded you to stay, etc).

We know it’s summer--but this is a definite chance to leverage your voice. Ed Week needs to wind down its research, etc. within the next two weeks for sure... SO... please jump on to the national listserv and share your input with the group; we will, in turn, share this conversation with Ed Week.

Hope everyone's summer is going well--and we look forward to reading your feedback soon on this timely issue!

Ellen and Peter
August 8, 2002
TNPI National Headquarters
I am a teacher in a high risk/ high turnover school. I believe that teachers in such situations want a quality administrator to work for. With the right leadership, amazing things can happen. Unfortunately, poor teacher retention is often rooted in poor leadership. As a member of the Executive Council of the West Mecklenburg Collaborating for Education Reform Initiative (CERI), in Charlotte, NC, I have helped them gather data on why these schools are at-risk. The overwhelming data shows that the culture of the school must be supportive for not only the students but also for the staff. Teachers wanted the administrator to be an instructional leader and to be supportive and understanding of their daily struggles in the classroom. This CERI group, funded primarily through a generous grant from the Ford Foundation, is working to change the culture of the school by supporting administrators and teachers as they learn new ways of communication, collaboration and organization of roles. In schools where the administration has openly welcomed the opportunities to learn, grow, and change, the teacher turnover rate has decreased and student achievement has increased. Some of the tools being used are cognitive coaching (from the Center for Cognitive Coaching, Denver, CO) teacher keepers (a partnership with human resource executives from the business community) and adaptive schools training. These are just a few ways that administrators and teachers are working to stop the revolving door in so many of our at risk schools. 

I continue to work in this school and believe that the CERI’s work will continue to decrease the rate of teacher turnover and improve student achievement. I also have a strong sense of commitment to the students in my building. They deserve quality, experienced teachers, and my leaving doesn't help them. The bond between the teachers helps most of us to return to the "trenches" and work to give an at-risk population a quality education.

Katherine C. Pope
Charlotte, NC
August 8, 2002

Hi all!
I spent 15 years at an "at risk,” "underperforming,” "failing,” and—whatever else you want to call it—school. I worked with ten principals there, and as many assistant principals. I stayed because, at times, I had genuine opportunities to make a difference for the children and families I worked with. I taught pre-K there, so I developed wonderful relationships with entire families and taught multiple children of some families. 

When I worked with supportive leaders at my school, who allowed me to be creative and realized that I would make them more successful if they supported me, I was able to get many school programs started. I got grants (through Teacher's Network) to run computer classes for parents and community members, we did parent workshops, and we organized trips and shows for the younger classes. We started a teacher book club and arranged professional development that the teachers actually asked for (mostly done by members of the staff). 

I left the school after struggling through two years with a principal who sabotaged all the relationships we worked so hard to build at the school. For whatever reasons, she told lies about her staff to other members of the staff and to the parents. She attempted to create racial problems where there were none. She did not allow me to work with the other staff members to make the school better. She would actually fight against us with lies every time we tried to.

Leaving was one of the most difficult decisions I ever made, but there was no professional community of learners at my school, and even the feeling that I was making a difference with my families and children could not sustain me any longer. 

I work with new teachers at several schools now and I think that most teachers look for a professional community that is supported by the school leadership. They will stay even at the most difficult place if such a community exists. Teachers are looking for the chance to make a real difference, and they want to be in an environment where the administration allows them to be a part of a professional community (i.e., a place where making a difference is possible). Sorry this was so long! 

Judi Fenton
August 8, 2002
I have been teaching at the same "hard to staff" school for the last 18 years. We spent four years on the New York State Schools Under Registration Review (SURR) list (November 1997 to November 2001). Over the years there were many changes in leadership and huge turnover in teachers. I stayed on working many different positions within the school because I felt I was making a difference in the lives of the children I came in contact with. I was always involved in whatever form of collaborative school governance we had from school based management through to school leadership teams. I consider myself a "teacher leader," and I was always allowed to function in that way.

Arlyne LeSchack
August 8, 2002
Hello from hot (I'm referring to the weather) Los Angeles. After opening up a brand new year-round, K-2, urban, "hard to staff with credentialed teachers" school and teaching there for 11 years, I left last school year for a traditional calendar, urban, K-5 school closer to home. The K-5, although still in the bottom 30% in API rating, had a more stable staff environment. After spending a year there, I have returned to the more urban setting of another year-round primary center in Los Angeles.

I stayed at my former school, White House Place Primary Center for 11 years for several reasons:
-I enjoyed the students I worked with.
-I knew that I was making a difference in their lives.
-I had established a relationship with the families and the community.
-I had good opportunities for leadership and mentoring (at one time 75% of the staff was non-credentialed and/or new teachers).
-We had established a strong collaborative team of teachers. 
-The small size (16 teachers) of the school provided opportunities for all to be heard, and decisions were made quickly to best meet the needs of the students we served.

Unfortunately, I will have to echo Judi by saying that the main reason I left was because of an administrator we had the last two years I was there. She felt threatened by the leadership I had established there and did not make collaboration among teachers easy. She also began to tear the staff apart by "forcing" people to choose sides, rather than work on the same team. I knew that if I were to continue to collaborate, I would have to do it without her support. She wanted full control of the professional development at the school, rather than let it come from the needs of the teachers. Her top-down management style drove six credentialed teachers away. The teachers that are still there (dedicated and talented educators) are there because they are still working on their credentials. Currently, there is another administrator, but she is the opposite, taking on a more passive role. I sense that the ones that will be fully credentialed by the end of the next school year will leave because they are unhappy with the leadership and the direction the school is headed, not because of the student population.

If you were to ask me what I felt the most important factors in recruiting and retaining quality teachers in "hard to staff schools," I would have to say the leadership, the community, and the organization of the school itself. In my opinion, it's not where the school is located or who the students are necessarily; it's more about the working environment of the school that counts. Is there a strong, knowledgeable, and fair leader? Is there support for all teachers who need it? Are teachers' voices heard and valued? Is there opportunity to both teach and learn?

Just my 2¢.
Take Care!

Jane Fung
Los Angeles 
August 9, 2002
I have been a teacher at two different hard-to-staff schools for six years. At my first school, I worked with two different principals in four years, and a new principal was being installed as I was leaving. The lack of leadership was the prime factor in my decision to leave this school. We were a dedicated staff and I relished working with families over the three years that their children attended our school. I learned how to collaborate there, how to be mentored, how to mentor other teachers, and who I was as an educator. Leaving was by far the hardest professional decision that I have ever had to make, and I still receive phone calls from 'my' families when they have questions about their child's education. There is nothing that could have made me stay at this school and when my district told me that, initially, my principal had blocked my transfer, I made up my mind to leave teaching, if I had to, to get away from her. Fortunately, it didn't come to that.

My new school is completely the opposite. Our principal puts the needs of children first and focuses on instruction. She puts her trust in us as educators and defers to our professional judgment. She is succeeding at building capacity at our school and tells us time and again that we are in charge, that our school is only as good as we make it. This is a little difficult for some teachers to handle—I mean, freedom can be pretty scary—but her leadership has made me see that a hard-to-staff school doesn't have to be a hard-to-work-at school. The level of dialogue is incredibly high, and even when we disagree on something as a staff, we always walk away feeling validated. The concerted effort that we make shows up where it counts the most, in the lives of our students.

Two years ago I was ready to walk away from a profession that I had made a career change for. Now I look forward to going to work. One coin, two sides, heads up.

Jill Manning
Los Angeles
August 9, 2002
My Experience in a Low-Performing School 

I was displaced performing high school to a low-performing middle school. My first year at the school (my third year of teaching) was one of during my tenure year from a high-the hardest years of my life. During my first four months, I was rejected by many of my colleagues, threatened by parents and students, and generally reviled at the school. At mid-year, my "summative evaluation" found me below standard. 

I eventually had some control over my classes, and I felt I had learned how to teach my students, especially in writing. At the end of that year, the administrator said she was not sure I should be granted tenure, so she had prayed about it and decided to grant it to me. Needless to say, it took all the self-esteem I could muster to keep me coming to work everyday, but I made it through the year (although I looked around at other jobs that summer) and decided to continue teaching. 

During my second year at the low-performing school, I vacillated between being determined to stay and wanting to do everything I could to get out of there. When I heard about national board certification, even though I had only taught for three years, I decided to pursue it. I wanted to prove that I was a good teacher, especially given my first years of being vulnerable to the decisions made by school leaders. I had started year two at the low-performing school with several ideas that proved effective. In addition, our principal had received my previous year's students’ writing scores, which were five points above expected. I went from barely being granted tenure to becoming the school’s teacher of the year. I also received national board certification for my work at the low-performing school. 

Halfway through the year, I decided I would devote myself to making a difference in the lives of the overwhelming number of needy students in my care; however, toward the end of the year, my resolve dissolved. I simply could not take it any more. I had only one AG student and more than one third of my students were slow learners (IQ: 70-89). I had very little support from parents, and my administration continued to have few ideas about how to support instruction. Although I had several wonderful students and families, the sheer numbers of problem students and families combined with the poor leadership at the school level and at the system level drove me away. 

What I cannot understand is why these schools even exist? In my school distract, we have the capability of busing as well as many other resources. Why do we have schools with a majority of low-performing, at risk, needy children? Why aren’t these students more evenly divided throughout the district? All children can learn, but the reality is that some children are harder to teach, and many do not have the skills to function well in school. These students not only need excellent teachers, they also need the benefit of middle class role models (i.e., fellow students and their families) to translate middle class norms to them. One of the biggest problems at my low-performing school was that there were very few positive role models. As a result, the standard for behavior was based on the norms presented by the dysfunctional majority. Unless we find a way to shift the communities’ will to include more equity in school assignment, we will find no great solutions to staffing low-performing schools. Great teaching and great programs cannot solve the overwhelming reality of majority rules. 

Sheryn Northey 
Charlotte, NC
August 9, 2002

I've been teaching at low-performing schools since 1990, first in New Orleans and then in New York City. I think the reason that most of us stay in these "hard-to-staff" places can be tied into our sense of efficacy. If we feel like we are making a real difference, it is such an exhilarating feeling that we stay, even in challenging conditions. When we feel like we can't make any headway, usually because of poor administration and policy, then we feel compelled to leave. I've had several different positions, and I think all of my decisions to stay or leave can be related to my sense of making a difference.

There are three decisions in particular that stand out for me. The first two experiences are similar to other people's -- I'm writing them anyway, just in case EdWeek wants different anecdotes, but you listserv people can ignore them, since this e-mail is really long! (Sorry.) My third decision involves something that no one else has brought up --those of us who leave the "regular" classroom for "special" positions. I don't know if that counts as leaving, but I think it's related to the problems of high-need areas that a lot of experienced people are drawn out of the regular classroom.

My first job was in an elementary school in a New Orleans housing project. I was a Teach For America corps member, so I only expected to stay for two years, but I couldn't bear to leave because I felt like I was only just starting to become a good teacher. My first year was horrible because I really didn't know what I was doing, but my connection to the kids kept me going. Over the next two years, I learned a huge amount -- from my kids, my colleagues, and the classes I took, so I could see my teaching getting more and more effective. By my third year, I could see real progress in my kids, so yes, I felt like I was making a difference. I got addicted to that feeling and gave up any ideas about another career. I decided to leave New 
Orleans to be closer to my family, but I ended up teaching in New York.

In New York, after an initial year in which principals and teachers were shifted between schools, I ended up at a middle school I loved. I worked with a wonderful team of teachers, and we used to plan special activities for the kids, with the full support of the principal. I was also allowed to create my own curriculum and feel like I was continuing to develop in the classroom. However, the school ran into more and more management problems, and most of our administrative staff was removed. Unfortunately, the replacement staff was even worse; the original staff might not have been terribly efficient, but they cared about the kids. The new staff didn't seem to care about the teachers or kids. My new assistant principal was both demeaning and not that bright. She used to yell at us in front of the kids for silly things. (My favorite was when she yelled at an English teacher for showing a video about "nothing" -- Much Ado About Nothing.) We also had to deal with the fact that the school was highly overcrowded (operating on double session), and completely out of control. For me, the decisive moment came when a student opened my classroom door and for no apparent reason, hurled a bottle inside, narrowly missing one of my sixth graders. The problem wasn't the kids -- the problem was total mismanagement of the kids by the adults. It got to the point where I couldn't even feel effective in my own classroom because of the general chaos of the school, so I decided to leave.

My current school is in the same area of New York, but it’s much better run. 
It's not a perfect place, but the principal tries to listen to the teachers and definitely cares about the kids. I'm running into a different problem, though. I think our feeling of effectiveness is related to a sense of getting better. That's why so many of the people who've responded to this issue have written about helping to make decisions in the school, good staff development, mentor relationships, etc. All of these things make us feel more effective because we are sharing and growing.

My problem is that within my classroom, I now have so many different ideas and strategies that I'm finding it impossible to do everything I would like to help the kids improve. Even though I am doing much more than I was five years ago, I no longer feel as satisfied with what I can do. My action research for TNPI last year focused on time. During a few weeks that I analyzed my time, I was doing everything I thought was necessary to help my kids improve -- detailed planning, creative lessons, lots of feedback on student work, but I was spending at least 70 hours a week. Part of the problem is that as a middle school English and social studies teacher, my kids do a large amount of writing, which should ideally receive lots of attention and time from me. But a NYC colleague teaching at the elementary level found that her work took a similar amount of time because she had to plan for so many subjects. The difficulty for me is that I know what I can achieve with kids if I work during essentially all of my free time, but there is no way I can sustain that (especially since I am expecting my first child this fall.) I won't feel effective doing less and less with the kids, so I've decided to take a Title I literacy position. I will be "pushing in" to other classrooms to help with reading workshop/literacy strategies. In a sense, I am "leaving" the classroom, and I wonder if I would feel compelled to do this in a school with more resources. If my class sizes were lower, (especially relative to the needs of the students -- most of whom are bilingual and need lots of assistance), and our preparation time greater, maybe I wouldn't have to give up my classroom. Certainly, in the small town where I grew up, most of my teachers seemed to have families and teach an entire career without a problem. In my current school, which is pretty stable for our area, most of the classroom teachers have less than ten years experience, and the veterans are all out the classroom.

Lisa Peterson
New York City
August 9, 2002
This conversation is so interesting and it really brings home to me that while it seems nearly impossible to attract and keep good teachers in high need schools, there absolutely are certain steps we can take to encourage them (us) to stay. And it has nothing to do with changing the children or families who attend the schools.

I pulled out several themes in our conversation so far. It might be interesting to talk more about how these things (and others that you can add to these) might be supported and encouraged in the policy world.

1. We need to feel as though we are making a difference in the lives of our students, their families, and the community.

2. We need to be part of a professional learning community with many opportunities to collaborate with our colleagues (both new and experienced).

3. We need opportunities (though only by our own choice) to grow and take on more enriching professional responsibilities as we mature in our profession.

4. The leadership at the school (and community, and district, and city, and state) must support the previous points, provide the necessary resources, and trust us to know what is best for our children.

I think these things are what keep us at any school, yet are we are more likely to get them at a school that is not struggling? Certainly there is a relationship between the funds and resources (and income level of parents) that a school has and the ability to staff the school. Though sometimes I feel as though I had more freedom to do what I know is right at my "hard to staff" school, than I would get at an "easy to staff" one! What do you think? 

Judi Fenton
August 10, 2002
I agree with you Judi.
I certainly felt I was "more important" at my "hard to staff" school then I would have been at an easy to staff school. The fact that I hung in there was respected, as were my leadership qualities. You are also right in that what makes life tough at these schools is not the kids. What sometimes gets difficult is the atmosphere created by the adults. I can't even put my finger on it, but sometimes the atmosphere is very negative and oppressive. 

Arlyne LeSchack 
August 10, 2002
I have worked in a variety of schools that were hard to staff, from inner city Detroit (during the riots in the 60s) to the Deep South in Cades, S.C. where I was the only white teacher. Presently, I am returning to a Title I school in Wyoming for the 18th year.

I have read with interest the reasons given for returning to a school that is difficult to staff.....I agree wholeheartedly that an effective administrator makes a difference, along with a caring staff. The one element that seems to have been neglected over the years has been meaningful parent participation, especially in the intermediate grades. Last year, for my action research, I chose to examine the effect of including parents as partners in the education process. Involving parents in regular school time activities proved to be extremely beneficial for the students as well as the instructor. Parent participation in my classroom was overwhelming! 96% of my parents attended some type of school activity. Parents called regularly to check on school work or voice a concern. They felt comfortable contacting me. I recognized that a number of parents were very open with me in expressing their frustration with assisting their child with schoolwork.....many stated that they would be glad to visit and help in the classroom, but they wanted me to do the "teaching"....they were tired after work, felt inadequate in math problem solving, or they didn't understand what the assignment meant....as a result of their openness, we found ways to overcome the problems: a homework buddy, the after-school or before school homework classes, or one on one with the teacher before school. No longer were parents pointing to the teacher, or the teacher pointing to the parents as the problem. We became a team trying to help the student master a specific standard/benchmark. The support they gave me was invaluable, and as a result, their child was more respectful to the teacher and valued their education because their parents did. (Parents gave additional support throughout the year, taking home papers to sort, cut or collate. They would come in to assist in setting up projects, or view their child's work. The students wanted their parents to be a part of the activities going on in our room).

My research reflected an increase in math scores, and although it wasn't earth shattering, the gains made in self esteem and parent involvement were. It was definitely a successful partnership for the students, parents, and instructor.

This year, I am already planning on including parents in the decision-making process about school activities. It is my intent to build a stronger partnership program, in order to have more students meet success in the 5th grade.

Jean Davies
Cheyenne, WY
August 10, 2002
I never intended to become a teacher. I was a business major and worked in the corporate field for two years before deciding it was not for me. I decided that if I was going to make a mark on this world, it would be with children, and so I decided to teach. 

I am currently in my 17th year of teaching. I have always worked at low-performing and hard to staff schools. I was at my first school for 12 years. It was a terrible situation but I felt I was making a difference with my students. I finally left because I was being menaced by a parent. He knew how to work the system, and my principal wouldn’t support me (“I don’t want to get involved”). The police told me that, basically, whatever this man wanted to do to me he would do to me, and nothing could be done until that happened. They suggested that I leave. So I left and went to another low-performing school in another impoverished neighborhood. You see, I was still making a difference.
I have worked under a variety of administrators, men and women, with a variety of styles. “Rich man, poor man, beggar man, thief” is putting it mildly. These administrators ranged from despot, invisible, thief, tyrant, sexual predator, incompetent, self-serving and clueless. Notice that I did not write that I worked with any of these administrators; I worked under them. Also notice that not one trait listed was cooperative, compassionate, collaborative or dedicated.

Extremely disillusioned and morally offended, I have been trying to quit teaching. More accurately, I have been desperately looking for a reason to stay in teaching. I must really want to stay because I have come up with some of the lamest reasons (i.e., convenient parking, it’s near Costco). I may have just found a real reason.
This reason is in the form of an administrator who, if she is allowed to do so, may make a difference. This is a person who encourages collaboration, stresses high standards (personal and professional), and—more importantly—is willing to listen and willing to learn from others. This person can also slip into "tyrant mode." However, she knows this about herself and tries to maintain a balance.

The leadership is what matters most. You can staff a school with the best and the brightest, but if you have a leader who is afraid (heaven forbid!) to learn something new, or to let anyone else shine, or try something new (even if the old approaches were failing), then the best and brightest just won’t matter. 

Allison Demas
August 11, 2002

The conversation about staffing "hard to staff" schools has been fascinating to me. Something that Judi said about support as teachers grow and mature--"3. We need opportunities (though only by our own choice) to grow and take on more enriching professional responsibilities as we mature in our profession." reminded me of a good book--Life Cycle of the Career Teacher. The book addresses the "stages" a teacher progresses through from novice to emeritus, with case study examples along the way. A book like this might really help staff developers more appropriately target their audience, if they knew which "stages" their audience members were in.

Gail R.

Gail V. Ritchie, MEd, NBCT
"Believe in what you do; do what you believe"
Fairfax County, VA
August 12, 2002

I left a hard-to-staff school after seven years because I simply outgrew it. As my experience in teaching developed, so did my understanding of what was necessary for students to achieve. My concept of teaching broadened and along with it so did my need to get involved in the workings of the school. The management design of my hard-to-staff school (which easily translates into hard-to-run school) did not have room for me in it. 

My first years of teaching were spent learning how to be a teacher; I was blissfully ignorant of the chaos outside my classroom door. I was thrilled someone gave me a program and a class of kids to teach. Later, I became aware that there were serious problems at our school manifested in the low morale of staff and students and dismal passing and attendance rates. However, I thought I could survive if I managed to contain the dysfunction and disorder outside my classroom door. Naturally, the door offered my students and me no protection from the mismanagement of funds, misprogramming of students, overcrowding of classes, and violence. I joined a few committees aimed at trying to improve our school only to see the majority of our ideas thwarted by bureaucracy and pessimism. Attempts at change seemed futile. 

I decided to seek a teaching position at an alternative school to see if the grass was truly greener. It was. At my present school, teachers have a voice in decision-making at the school level. The fact that I am involved in school decisions and setting policy makes me more vested in the success of the school as a whole. There are various factors that contribute to the success of our school. Leadership is one. At my former school, the principal (sent to our school by way of the superintendent’s office – unknown to staff), insecure in his position, dictated school policy and lectured to staff. At my present school, the principal (a well respected teacher and counselor who worked at our school), acts more as a facilitator and works to help staff reach consensus. Another key factor is school size. My new school has 450 students; my old school had approximately 2000 – both schools serve students with special academic needs. These numbers mean that the smaller school has the opportunity to become a functioning, effective community for both students and staff; whereas the large school is doomed to be an institution.

Carol Tureski
August 14, 2002

I have been away for a while so am just reading the exchange on "hard to staff" schools. It is very interesting. I agree with Judy that we should be thinking about policy issues coming out of the discussions.

I have taught at two different schools. Both schools are in a "hard to staff" district in NYC. When I started teaching in the first school, it had the most stable staff in the district. Many teachers spent almost their entire teaching career in the school and were well respected by their colleagues and parents. The administration was mostly "top down.” Teachers helped other teachers, but on an individual basis. Decisions of how to teach were made by the administration and the district. The school was run well, but there was little room for innovation. I was told by my administrator that "we don't believe in "big books" here. Then came another principal. She believed in innovation, but was a weak leader. Teachers were used to being told how to teach and the administration would solve the "problems." The school discipline became lax. I tried to convince the teachers that we could form committees to make changes we thought were necessary and then implement them. The principal believed in teachers collaborating, making decisions, and carrying them out. The teachers said that was the principal's job. The principal was forced out and replaced with an administrator that was intimidated by experienced, respected teachers. She totally undercut highly effective experienced teachers and drove them out. Fifty-four staff members left in two years. I was forced out when I became the union chapter leader and spoke up at school leadership meetings. My reading recovery program was "ended" over the summer and the district placed me in another school. I was in the school for 11 years.
I have been in my "new" school for 2 years now. What a difference. The principal is supportive of the staff and encourages innovations and teacher learning to improve student outcomes. She believes that staff members should be involved in making school decisions. She has helped facilitate an after school workshop on "guided reading" and wants teachers to form "reading/study groups" to discuss different teaching methods and ideas. She brought in a program that helps teachers "coach" each other. We have a high number of "uncertified" teachers and there is a somewhat high turnover rate of teachers, but the principal has only been in the school for two and a half years. I am hoping that as we are able to create a more "collaborative" atmosphere and provide the training teachers need to feel successful, more teachers will stay. 

The administration of hard to staff schools is extremely important. Schools with many inexperienced and often uncertified teachers need a principal that is a "learning leader." Teachers must feel supported in their struggles to "learn" how to teach, at the same time they are encouraged to try new methods and learn to help each other in a collaborative community.

Lisa North 
Brooklyn, NY
August 15, 2002


I read with interest Lisa North's statements on hard to staff schools and I felt a kinship.

I work in Chicago Public Schools, in a highly mobile, highly diverse, high poverty area of the city. The previous principal was a strong administrator who believed in positive reinforcement for both teachers and students. He reached out for community and university connections and brought in highly motivated teachers. The problems of the neighborhood continued to escalate, but the staff worked together, respected each other and had a common goal. Discipline was still a daily issue but it was not out of control. Turnover in staff was minimal.

Then he retired. The new principal discarded all his self-esteem improving ideas, such as the breakfast club for student of the month, classroom visits to congratulate honor roll students, teachers planning and leading staff development, and disbanded the parents clubs. Even the time honored tradition of "praising in public, correcting in private" disappeared. Teachers were reprimanded in front of their classes.

As a result morale disintegrated before our eyes. Since the principal did not have respect for the teachers, neither did the students. We felt powerless to express ideas or implement new techniques. Teachers began looking for positions in other schools, not necessarily in better neighborhoods, but with better administration. Our test scores were the lowest they had been in the last ten years. 

I think what makes a school hard to staff is not necessarily the neighborhood or the students, but the approach of the principal to the teachers and the parents. Teachers are professionals with experience, education, and good ideas, not servants to be ordered about. If they are used as a resource and respected for their efforts, they will stick around. So far this year, 29 of the 35 teachers have found new positions. The school's reputation has changed from a place where teachers wanted to work to a place to be avoided at all costs, which is really sad because we were making a difference for those students, and now all our hard work has gone for naught.

Joy Reeves
August 17, 2002


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