South Charlotte

UNC Charlotte Urban Institute study: Teacher turnover not all tied to pay

Teacher turnover rates do not appear to be influenced by the income levels or geography of the households served by the school, according to a study by the UNC Charlotte Urban Institute for MeckEd.

Ballantyne’s Hawk Ridge Elementary School and Elizabeth Lane Elementary School had the lowest turnover among Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools during the 2012-13 school year: 2 percent. The CMS district average for that year was 14 percent, according to the study.

But there also were several south Charlotte elementary schools that had higher turnover rates that school year, including Olde Providence and McKee Road elementaries.

Teacher turnover has been a hot topic among educators, with some worrying that state legislature and county government decisions concerning teacher pay are driving teachers to other states, including South Carolina.

“It became clear that some underlying demographics, like income, were matching very well to school scores,” said John Chesser, senior analyst with the UNC Urban Institute who participated in the study. “I thought it was interesting that the pattern was much less clear when teacher turnover at the school level was compared – not much of a pattern.”

MeckEd is an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that is a proponent of excellent public education. It was formed in 2006.

Principals from schools with lower-than-average turnover rates, including Hawk Ridge and Pineville elementaries, credited those rates to happy teachers who are given creative freedom in their classrooms without feeling micro-managed.

Those principals also credited it to a family-like atmosphere in the school where staff and teachers care about each other professionally and personally.

Hawk Ridge Principal Troy Moore said many of the school’s teachers have been with the school since it opened in 1999.

“Our staff really sees itself as family, and the desire to stay together and support each other is very strong,” he said.

He said that past and present administration has “always promoted a culture of active research for new best practices and a display of trust in the teachers to be the instructional leaders in their classrooms.”

Showing trust in the teachers’ abilities in the classroom is paramount to low turnover rates, said Pineville Elementary Principal Brian Doerer.

“It is important to not micro-manage teachers. This stifles their creativity and engagement. Hold them accountable but let them show their self-directedness,” he said. “Trust in them and they will usually trust in you.”

Elizabeth Tucker, a fifth-grade teacher at Pineville Elementary, said she certainly appreciates that sentiment from her principal. “I do not feel micro-managed or undervalued,” Tucker said. “Mr. Doerer also allows us to be innovative in our classrooms.”

Tucker related how last year she wanted students to have the opportunity to sit on stability balls instead of regular chairs. Within two weeks, she had the stability balls in the classroom.

She also said her principal does not hassle teachers with “busy work” that takes away from the core of her job, which is to teach students.

“It is clearly communicated from the administration that my most important job is to be a teacher and not anything else,” she said. “Pineville also has an environment for both the students and teachers that communicates that you are expected to be at your best at all times. It makes for a pleasant place to work.”

Administrators said some turnover each year is to be expected, due to personal situations, relocations and transitions to other professional opportunities, said Nizy John, Polo Ridge Elementary principal.

Polo Ridge has a lower-than-average turnover rate of 11 percent, according to the UNC study.

More than anything, administrators agree that a little appreciation and trust in teachers can go a long way toward retention, and a better school.

“We build positive relationships with our teachers and differentiate professional learning opportunities for them,” said John. “We recognize the individuals that go above and beyond their call of duty, and we appreciate our staff for choosing education as their profession.”