R-E-S-P-E-C-T

To tackle teacher shortage, start with giving teachers the respect they deserve, superintendents say

PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia
Stanley Teacher Prep resident Lily Wool works with kindergartner Samori McIntosh at Tollgate Elementary School in Aurora. Wood's residency program is merging the Boettcher Teacher Residency program.

The burgeoning teacher shortage and how to solve it was the topic of conversation at an annual gathering of some of Colorado’s superintendents and business leaders. And the message was clear: the situation is dire.

“At some point, we’re not going to have qualified teachers to teach your children anymore,” Harry Bull, superintendent of the Cherry Creek School District, said Wednesday at the annual PEBC Superintendent Forum.

The PEBC, short for the Public Education Business Coalition, is a nonprofit that provides teacher training and runs the well-regarded Boettcher Teacher Residency Program.

Report after report shows more teachers leaving the profession and fewer young people signing up to replace them in Colorado and nationwide. The imbalance hits harder in a few key areas such as math and science, and rural schools have gone to extraordinary lengths to hire and keep teachers. Some rural schools have even begun hiring teachers from outside the country.

PEBC officials said they hoped Wednesday’s event would spark an ongoing statewide conversation to tackle the shortage. Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne, in her opening remarks, said she’d take any suggestions from the business or education community to the state legislature, which kicks off a new session in January.

She said the state’s teacher shortage is “the most important issue facing us as a state.”

Here are three themes we heard at the forum:

If we can’t give teachers more money, we at least owe them respect and recognition.

The crowd went wild — and Twitter lit up — when Bull suggested it was time to start giving teachers the respect they deserved. Teaching is more complex than ever, and who would want to be a teacher when “the public blames them for everything that is wrong for society,” he asked.

Bull called on business leaders and members of the public to drop the negative rhetoric and spend time in the state’s classrooms.

Others, such as Denver Public Schools Superintendent Tom Boasberg, said teachers want to be treated like professionals, and that it’s up to district officials and principals to harness teachers’ passions.

Recognition, the superintendents said, can come in a variety of forms.

Linda Reed, superintendent of the Pagosa Springs-based Archuleta School District 50, recalled the time she gave her teachers coffee mugs embossed with the district’s new logo.

“You would have thought I gave them gold,” she said.

School leaders must meet the needs of teachers on an individual level.

One teacher retention approach superintendents say has served them well: meeting teachers where they are. That means different resources depending on the circumstances.

In Jeffco Public Schools, for examples, the district changed the way teachers were trained at a cluster of schools that educate the county’s poorest students.

Jeffco Superintendent Dan McMinimee said that providing unique training to teachers — especially in a district such as Jeffco with urban, suburban and mountain schools — is critical to keep teachers and boost student achievement.

While student achievement hasn’t climbed at that group of Jeffco schools yet, teacher retention in one year has nearly doubled from 46 percent to 81 percent, McMinimee said.

Letting teachers provide feedback to school and district leaders is crucial. But it has to be done right.

First, go easy on the surveys, said Reed, of Archuleta.

Second, show up and shut up, McMinimee said.

“The only way you can do that is to live in their world,” he said. “It’s being there, it’s being present and listening and not passing judgment.”

And action must follow.

The whole point, the superintendents said, is to make sure teachers feel valued and like they have a stake in their school. That, they said, will help keep the best teachers in the classroom.

Building Better Schools

How convincing teachers they could be ‘great’ helped transform this Indianapolis school

PHOTO: John Leyba/The Denver Post

A Speedway elementary school that was once known as the worst school in the its district was honored today for academic performance by the Indiana Department of Education.

Allison Elementary School was one of two schools recognized as Indiana’s 2016 National Title I Distinguished Schools — an honor that principal Jay Bedwell attributes to a positive school culture.

“It took me three years to change the culture in the building so that these teachers actually understood that they were capable of being great teachers,” said Bedwell who came to the school more than a decade ago when it was known as the worst of Speedway’s four elementary schools. Students would transfer to other schools, it was failing academically and the police were regularly called about discipline issues, he said.

The school faces challenges: More than 71 percent of students are poor enough to qualify for meal assistance and more than one in five students are learning English.

But during Bedwell’s time as principal, the school got a new influx of funding from the federal government, and he has used most of that money for tools to track student progress and to hire an instructional coach and three instructional assistants who work with small groups of kids to get them up to speed.

That work is paying off: Despite its challenges, the school is thriving, and it exceeds the state and district average passing rate on the ISTEP. Assistant Superintendent Patti Bock said that the high test scores are particularly impressive because both students who are behind and those who are excelling show strong improvement.

“I know that those teachers work really hard,” Bock said. “It doesn’t matter what day you walk through that school. You are going to see loving, caring people and kids excited that they can do the work.”

In some ways, Allison is a small town school in the midst of a big city, said Bock.

Speedway is such a geographically compact district that instead of taking buses, students walk or drive the short distance to school. There are regular family nights at the school, and younger students know who their teachers will be in later grades.

In addition to Allison, Gavit Middle and High School in Hammond was also honored by the state today for its work closing the achievement gap.

“I am honored to recognize two exceptional schools today for their commitment to providing high-quality support and instruction to Hoosier students,” said Glenda Ritz, Indiana’s Superintendent of Public Instruction.  “I applaud the hard work of the dedicated educators, students and families of Allison Elementary and Gavit Middle/High School on this distinguished achievement.”

help wanted

Number of Colorado teaching graduates dips again, but pool getting more diverse

PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia
Freshmen at DSST Cole High School in Dexter Korto's morning advisory class look to the back of the class where English standards are posted.

From bad to worse.

That’s the top-level finding of a new report on the declining number of Coloradans completing traditional teacher preparation programs at the state’s colleges and universities.

For the sixth year in a row, fewer students are graduating with an education degree and heading into the classroom, according to a report issued jointly by the state departments of education and higher education.

Just 2,472 students graduated this spring with a degree in education. That’s down slightly from 2,529 the previous year. And unlike in years before where there were slight upticks in the number of students completing nontraditional teacher prep programs, that number was flat this year.

The decline in the number of Colorado college students leaving with a teaching certificate is not unique to Colorado. Across the nation, schools are grappling with teacher shortages, especially at the middle and high school level and with subjects such as math and science.

Rural schools here and across the nation are at an even greater disadvantage, according to multiple reports.

There is one glimmer of hope in the report for those advocating for greater diversity in front of the classroom. The makeup of individuals enrolled last year in traditional teacher prep programs was the most diverse since 2011. In total, 2,088 students of color were enrolled at a traditional teacher prep program last year. That’s about 21 percent of all students in such programs.

In an effort to increase the number of available teachers, colleges and school districts alike are creating new programs to attract incoming freshman and non-traditional candidates.

Beginning in 2017, freshmen entering the University of Colorado Boulder will have two new degree options — a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and a bachelor’s degree in leadership and community engagement. The latter was designed to attract students who believe teaching can make an impact in and out of the classroom, officials said.

The University of Northern Colorado, which continues to graduate the largest number of students with teaching degrees, is developing a new program to recruit and train students and current educators to teach in the state’s rural schools.

Denver Public Schools is also expanding a program that takes current teacher aides and puts them in front of the classroom after they’ve completed courses from Western Governors University, a nonprofit online university.

Fewer new teachers is just one of two major factors contributing to the teacher shortage. The other is the number of current teachers retiring or leaving the field. Some of the state’s most high-profile superintendents recently discussed that matter at an annual forum.

They said the public, lawmakers and their peers must restore respect to the profession, among other strategies, to keep current teachers in the field.