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Teacher turnover an issue
Times Snohomish County Bureau
Schools with high poverty levels and low standardized-test scores lost more teachers, on average, than other schools in the Edmonds School District, according to a statewide study on teacher retention.
Edmonds was among 20 school districts in Washington whose personnel records were examined for the study, sponsored by the nonprofit Center for Strengthening the Teaching Profession and conducted by University of Washington researchers.
The findings suggest that what was once a big-city-school problem — high teacher turnover — is also an issue in districts such as Edmonds, which has seen an increase in the number of poor and non-English-speaking students over the past decade.
Across the state, 58 percent of teachers were at the same school after five years. In the Edmonds district, 55 percent of teachers remained at their schools, but some Edmonds schools had significantly lower rates.
Cedar Valley Community School in Lynnwood, where 61 percent of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches and 20 percent speak English as a second language, retained only 29 percent of its teachers over the five-year study period.
Woodway Elementary School in south Edmonds, with 37 percent poor and 23 percent non-English-speaking students, also held on to just 29 percent of its teachers.
The study called the link among poverty, low teacher retention and low student academic performance a "mutually reinforcing pattern."
"The more schools with kids in poverty, the more teachers have to gear up to deal with diverse needs," said Marge Plecki, an associate professor at the UW's College of Education and one of the study's authors.
Some Edmonds-district schools, however, bucked the trend. Meadowdale Elementary School in Lynnwood, with 32 percent low-income students and 7 percent bilingual speakers last school year, held on to 80 percent of its teachers, the most among the district's schools.
Edmonds Assistant Superintendent Pam Hopkins said the results suggest the district needs to better monitor teacher retention on a school-by-school basis.
She said the district should also recruit more teachers with expertise in math, special education and bilingual education, and do a better job of attracting teachers who are members of ethnic minorities.
"We'd like a teaching population equal to the diversity in the district," she said.
Ninety-four percent of teachers in the district are white; 72 percent of students are.
UW researchers compiled and analyzed data from fall 1998 through spring 2003.
As a district, Edmonds retained 66 percent of teachers either at the same school or within the district after five years. The state average was 72 percent.
But Edmonds did a better job of keeping its newest teachers when compared with several other suburban districts in the study. Forty-nine percent of teachers with four or fewer years' experience were still at the same school in the Edmonds district after five years, compared with 32 percent in Bellevue and 39 percent in the Lake Washington district.
The study's authors said the findings point out the need for strong support programs, particularly for new teachers.
The Edmonds district has a mentorship program that pairs first- and second-year teachers with more-experienced teachers and provides both with training and time to collaborate.
At Meadowdale Elementary, Principal Kyle Kinoshita said the school emphasizes support for teachers. Six teachers applied for and were awarded grants from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for leadership development in 1999. The next year, the school received a $180,000 grant from the Gates foundation to improve student achievement and professional development.
The results, Kinoshita said, are strong working relationships and mutual support among the school's teachers.
"Working together is the norm," he said. "It's unusual when one teacher doesn't collaborate with others."
Kinoshita said many people are surprised to learn about the growing number of poor and bilingual students in the Edmonds district. This year at Meadowdale, 40 percent of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches. The percentage of low-income students and English-language learners has almost doubled over the past 12 years, he said.
"People still think this is the 'burbs, the land of 'Leave It to Beaver,' but the basic trend is a huge change in demographics," Kinoshita said.
Lynn Thompson: 425-745-7807 or email@example.com
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