SALEM — Turnover of newly hired teachers is high; planning time is low. 

A panel of teachers feel they have the solution to fixing both issues: identifying leaders from within. 

The district recently formed a teachers cabinet to find ways of boosting teacher retention rates, finding more opportunity for common planning time and more. Ten staff from all over the school district served on the cabinet over the last several months.

The cabinet’s recommendations were presented to the public Monday night, wrapping up the cabinet’s work in the short term.

“Fourteen percent of our teachers last year didn’t come back,” said Salem High School Academic Center coordinator Eric Farley, a member of the cabinet. “That’s a statistic that I was overwhelmed by. That’s about 95 teachers.”

From the school year beginning in 2013 to the one about to end, the district “lost 36 percent of our first-year teachers,” according to a report from the cabinet.

The report went on to say the district should focus more on recruitment. Along the way, Salem Public Schools should “establish a consistent hiring process and begin recruiting early,” and strengthen partnerships with colleges like Salem State University.

“We do believe that’s going to be key for us in closing the achievement gap in this district,” said Michael Titus, a Collins Middle School teacher and member of the cabinet.

Many teachers leave due to what Titus referred to as “negligent retention practices” — administrators not asking new hires for input, not giving them feedback like tenured faculty get and not involving them in larger discussions and decisions.

“Ultimately, that leads to a lack of commitment, a lack of motivation,” Titus said. “And they decide they need to go elsewhere.”

The cabinet is calling upon the “teacher leader” to help correct the issue. Their work described it as a position filled from within that “will facilitate peer visits across their own teams.”

It would “incorporate new teachers into the culture and expectations of the school” and spend 80 percent of its time “modeling exemplar instruction in a live classroom setting that would allow for peer observations,” according to the cabinet.

The remaining 20 percent of the teacher leader’s time would be spent analyzing data, collaborating with coaches and “supporting new teachers with standards-based instructional planning and classroom management.”

More communication needed

Another issue, Farley said, is communication.

“Teachers need a voice,” Farley said. “They need to be heard.”

“The teacher leader role would also help to open up communication between faculty, administration and the school community,” a report from the cabinet read. “The teacher leader role would benefit new teachers and would also allow professional growth for those teachers who would be willing to take on an active approach towards leadership.”

A third report also called on the district to provide more planning time for teachers to collaborate.

The report said all Salem schools “should strive for at least 45 minutes of common planning time a week.” It then provided a list of where Salem falls short.

Four elementary schools — Bentley K-2, Bowditch, Horace Mann and Witchcraft Heights — range in 30 to 40 minutes a week, according to the report.

“Having half an hour just isn’t enough time to sit down, get through whatever introductions and business you have to get through, have an in-depth conversation, and a conclusion on how to move forward,” said Salem High School teacher Tina Cardone, a member of the cabinet. 

The teachers cabinet process was aided by the non-profit organization TeachPlus, which offers programs to engage and support teachers in improving their districts.

Mayor Kim Driscoll, who doubles as chairwoman of the School Committee, said she’s hoping the cabinet continues.

“There’s things we’re making some inroads on,” Driscoll said of the district, “but there’s always room for improvement.”

Whether the cabinet comes around for a second round of work or not, Driscoll said the advice is being taken seriously.

“This won’t sit on a shelf,” she said. “The idea is to make these action items.”

For more on this story or other story-related inquiries, email Salem reporter Dustin Luca at dluca@salemnews.com, call 978-338-2523 or message @DustinLucaSN on Twitter.

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