Flexibility, respect cuts teacher turnover

Rachel Spector quit teaching in low-performing, all-minority East Palo Alto (California) after four years, “squashed” by pressure to teach in a prescribed way to raise test scores.  “I didn’t feel respected.”

After a year teaching in San Francisco, which was even worse, she returned to teach seventh-grade English and social studies at Costaño School in East Palo Alto’s Ravenswood district. Principal Gina Sudaria promised, “As long as you’re teaching the standards and you’re teaching at a rigorous level, you can teach however you want to.”

“More and more, I’m the instructional leader of my classroom,” Spector says. 

Long plagued by high teacher turnover, Ravenswood is trying to keep good teachers by giving them more flexibility and input, reports the Peninsula Press.

Ravenswood teachers cope with big challenges — 77 percent of students aren’t proficient in English — for less pay than teachers in nearby affluent districts. Teachers start at $42,460, almost 20 percent lower than neighboring Menlo Park and Palo Alto.

 At Costaño, a K-8 school, Principal Sudaria uses peer coaches to help teachers learn from each other. She also stresses collaborative decision-making.

“Teachers are the ones who are doing the groundwork every single day, so their input and their knowledge needs to be highly valued,” she said.

The staff is divided into five committees that meet weekly on topics involving curriculum, safety and parent outreach. Sudaria said that allowing them to be involved beyond their teaching or support role gets everyone more invested in the school.

Turnover is down and the school’s Academic Performance Index score has increased from 612 to 783 in the past four years, nearing the state’s goal of 800.

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  1. Nice story but without knowing the story behind the story, what inclined principal Gina Sudaria to make the offer she did and then follow through, there’s no way of knowing whether this is one of those all-to-rare points of light in the public education firmament or indicative of a change in direction of the district-based public education system.

    I’m inclined to believe it’s the former since every once in a while the lion does lie down with the lamb but experience indicates that it’s something unusual about the particular lion and not a change in the nature of lions.

  2. I guess I can understand why the usual suspects won’t comment on this story. It does call attention, due to the noteworthiness of a principal treating teachers like adults, of the unusualness of the situation. Pretty tough to defend an institution when the default treatment of the professionals on whom it depends is disrespect and infantilization so it’s best to determinedly ignore stores such as this.

    Gratifyingly, as the on-going support for the alternatives to the district system demonstrates, that’s not a winning strategy.