Bundled-up bus riders

Second and third graders at Thomas School in Carbondale bundled up to walk from the school to the bus in January, as temperatures dipped into the low teens.

CARBONDALE — Educators at Carbondale Elementary School District 95 are sounding alarms about the district’s below-average teacher-retention rate.

Between 2014 and 2015, retention decreased from 79 to 75 percent. The state average hovers at about 85 percent. (The state just began measuring retention in 2014.)

At the district’s most recent school board meeting on Feb. 25, union representative Jennifer Hartlieb addressed the board, emphasizing the importance of high retention for student growth, and challenging the district’s work climate.

“Teacher retention rate is something that district administrators can influence by creating a desirable environment where high-quality teachers want to work,” Hartlieb said.

Teachers and administrators have clashed in the district over the past year. In May, union members overwhelmingly approved a vote of no confidence in Superintendent Mike Shimshak.

Since then, union leaders said, the work environment hasn’t improved. Communication between district leaders and employees remains strained, and teachers feel discouraged by the district’s direction.

Administrators on Tuesday did not return multiple phone calls for comment on teacher retention. Shimshak said in a text message that he thinks a handful of retirements, combined with a program that brings in Spanish teachers from Spain for three-year terms, likely drag down retention rates.

Union President Angela Grimmer said several of the Spanish teachers are ending their three-year terms early at the end of this school year, citing frustration with administrators.

“They just feel like any time they speak up about anything, there’s retaliation, and they’re not happy,” Grimmer said. Through several colleagues, the teachers declined to comment for this article.

Annette Jaynes, another teacher who works alongside them, said only one of 10 total teachers from Spain has stayed the full three-year term. (Three of the 10 have one year left and have not resigned.)

"Most of the time they leave because they get over here and our district hasn’t provided them with curriculum or the resources they need," she said.

High teacher attrition can lead to lower effectiveness in the classroom and increased cost, according to a 2007 policy brief by the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future.

The same study notes that low retention is especially likely to plague high-minority, high-poverty and low-performing schools. District 95’s student population is 67.4 percent minority, 16 percentage points higher than the state average.

Retention is calculated by dividing the number of returning teachers by the total number of teachers. Data from the most recent three years are used to calculate the rate. In other words, data from 2012, 2013 and 2014 are used to calculate the 2014 retention rate.

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Sarah Graham is a reporter for The Southern Illinoisan covering higher education and Union County.

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