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School systems work to retain teachers

By Greg Gelpi

Teacher retention rates remain stable in Henry County schools and have improved in Clayton County schools after an "exodus."

There has been an "exodus" of teachers from the Clayton County school system during the past few years, as wave after wave of teachers left due to lack of support and low morale, according to Clayton County Education Association President Sid Chapman.

Teacher retention, though, is "looking better," Assistant Superintendent of Personnel Jackie Hubbert said, citing an 86 percent retention rate.

"I think things settled down in the county politically with the board," Hubbert said about the retention rate.

In 2003, the Clayton school system was placed on a yearlong probation by its accrediting agency, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, when board members meddled in the day-to-day operations of the school system.

Hubbert said that as of Monday there were 297 vacancies posted. The system has 3,476 teachers currently.

According to Clayton schools Superintendent Barbara Pulliam's state of the system speech, Clayton has 1,675 teachers with five years or less experience this year.

"I think the principals did a good job," Hubbert said. "I think what causes teachers to remain is in the school building."

Although everyone wants higher pay, she said the "major contributing factor" to their decision to stay or leave usually involves respect and support from school administration.

"It's challenging because we live in a really competitive area," Hubbert said. "We have so much competition out there that we have to be the best."

The starting salary for a teacher with no experience and a bachelor's degree in the state is $29,649, but school systems offer local supplements. In Clayton, the supplement is $4,800, and in Henry it is $4,136.

"(The salary) might be an attraction, but it might not quote unquote seal the deal," Henry County schools spokeswoman Cindy Foster said, adding that other factors may play more important roles depending on the person.

Despite rumors of low morale, Hubbert said teachers haven't mentioned that to her and the retention rate shows stability.

"So many of the seasoned educators have already left," Chapman said. "Teachers have got to feel that sense that they are supported and not walking on eggshells."

Retention rates in Henry County schools tend to remain fairly constant, Foster said.

"We still have teachers coming and going, retiring and staying," Foster said, adding that the retention rates were 91 percent in 2004, 92 percent in 2003 and 90 percent in 2002.

The Henry school system has about 2,500 teachers and about 500 will be new next year because of retirements, departures and new enrollment, she said.

Because Henry is a "growing" school system, there are plenty of opportunities for teachers, Foster said. The school system is also collaborative, has "strong" leadership and provides professional learning and support.

A "pretty good number" of teachers entering the Henry school system for next year are coming from Clayton, but it's not a "huge" percentage, she said. About 50 of the 300 teachers hired so far are from Clayton.

According to the latest statistics from the Georgia Professional Standards Commission, in 2003 the retention rate for the state was 90.9 percent.

"If the upward trend in attrition continues, and hiring levels continue to decrease, attrition could overtake new hiring," according to the Professional Standards Commission.

Attrition rates have steadily increased in the past 10 years, commission statistics show. In fiscal year 1993, the state had a 6.6 percent attrition rate.