By Chris Kieffer/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – With a higher than usual amount of turnover this year, the Tupelo School District faces the challenge of introducing a large number of new educators to its policies and routines.
This fall, Tupelo will have a different principal at eight of its 11 schools. It will also have 86 educators new to the district. That’s roughly 13 percent of the teaching force in a district that had 629 licensed educators last year.
Data was not immediately available about how many new teachers Tupelo had last year, but Deputy Superintendent Diana Ezell said this year’s number is a higher than she remembers seeing recently.
The turnover comes after a school year that saw unrest about test scores and discipline concerns. Then-Superintendent Randy Shaver was given a release from the final two years of his contract in April after his decision to replace Tupelo High School’s principal drew community protests.
Interim Superintendent David Meadows said the district is working to develop a plan to improve teacher retention.
“You always are concerned with teacher turnover,” Meadows said. “You want to build stability in staff because that is what will benefit children.”
Part of that plan, he said, involves the district renewing its focus on teachers as front-line instructional leaders.
“We need to show them dignity, respect and caring,” he said.
Meanwhile, the district will use several processes to introduce its new teachers to the district. They will attend training sessions, be matched with mentors and will receive extra support.
Of the 57 positions the district has already filled, 20 of them are first-year teachers, said Jim Turner, director of human resources for the district. Twenty-nine positions remained unfilled, as of the beginning of this week.
Every new hire in the district attends an orientation session with Turner about what it means to be a TPSD employee. Also, while the first-year educators will be given extra support, all of the district’s new teachers will attend a two-day teacher induction workshop later this month.
That workshop, which will be led by Thomas Street teacher Samantha Cox, will focus on the district’s philosophy, policies, expectations, discipline process and electronic resources, among other things.
The district plans to create an online resource for new teachers, Ezell said, and will be deliberate about the need to provide them support. Also all new teachers will be given a mentor with whom they will meet regularly throughout the year. The mentor process should help boost future retention, Ezell said.
“Research shows that teachers with a strong mentor relationship with another teacher are more likely to remain in the profession than teachers who do not have that,” she said.
Because there are so many new principals this year, Ezell said the district also will have a principal’s induction meeting for those in new roles. However, all eight of the new principals had worked in the district before, and four of them were principals at other Tupelo schools last year.
“Since they’ve all been in the district, fortunately, they have similar training and that will formulate the use of similar vocabulary in speaking of teaching and learning,” Meadows said.
Meanwhile, as the district tries to improve retention, its focus on discipline will be a big part of that, both Meadows and Ezell said. This year, the district is stressing that teachers should use the first 20 days of the school year to thoroughly emphasize classroom expectations.
“What will keep teachers is if they feel respected, supported and safe in their environment,” Ezell said.