Inside an F school, by a team of Tulsa World reporters, analyzed the struggles of a chronically low-performing Tulsa school. A year later, Andrea Eger returned to find teacher turnover remains a huge problem at Hawthorne Elementary.
Principal Estella Bitson has trouble finding teachers willing to work at a high-poverty, all-minority school with an “F” rating. Some who try don’t make it through the year.
Hawthorne started the school year short a third-grade teacher. The two third-grade teachers have larger classes.
A new sixth-grade teacher recruited by Teach for America “couldn’t handle the kids,” says Bitson. She found the teacher another job in the district.
Last spring, both fifth-grade teachers quit. Some high-achieving students decided not to come back to Hawthorne, says Bitson.
“Some parents took their students to KIPP (a college preparatory charter school) or south-side schools because I couldn’t ‘assure’ them of who my fifth-grade teachers were going to be,” Bitson said. “These were the leaders of our school. They balance out our student body. But, if it was my kid, I would be asking the same questions — and here we go, I didn’t have that consistency.”
By October, the first of the two newly hired fifth-grade teachers quit. The second one followed suit at the end of the first semester.
Bitson pounded the pavement over winter break, tracking down December graduates from teacher colleges. A Northeastern State University grad began in late January, and another recent grad, from a small college in Iowa, arrived in early February.
But that meant weeks on end of substitute teachers for Hawthorne’s fifth-graders.
Students are used to it. “In third grade, I had like eight teachers,” said fifth-grader Cameron Steed. “Other kids have one teacher, and they get to learn and they get used to that one teacher.”
“Some people just can’t deal with the kids,” said Karesha Solomon, the lead third-grade teacher. “The people who take the biggest hit are the students who are on grade level.”
Solomon attended Hawthorne as a child. She was raised by two hard-working parents who expected all their children to go to college. They all did.