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Texas District Finds Success Tackling Teacher Turnover

New strategies to tackle a high teacher turnover rate in the Waco Independent School District in Texas may be starting to pay off, reports the Waco Tribune Herald.

Waco's teacher turnover rate is still in need of improvement, but the rate is the lowest it's been in four years, according to recently released data from the Texas Education Agency. The current turnover rate, 23.6 percent for the 2015-16 school year, is down 4 percentage points from the previous two school years. Still, Waco lags behind the state average of 16.5 percent and about 2 percentage points behind that of similar school districts with high shares of poor students. (More than 70 percent of Waco students are economically disadvantaged.)

The district has convinced teachers to stay by hiring teacher aides and behavior intervention specialists, using the money raised from a tax increase that voters approved in the fall of 2015, according to the Waco Tribune Herald.

The district has also raised starting salaries from $43,000 a year to $45,000 and devised an incentive pay program that will reward teachers who can deliver passing student scores on Texas state tests. Teachers can earn $25 per student when 60 percent of poor students pass the test. Those exceeding that percentage get bigger bonuses: $35 per student when 75 percent pass and $50 per student when 90 percent or more pass.

Since first-year teachers made up the majority of teachers who left last school year, the district instituted training specifically geared toward the needs of those who are new to the classroom. All new teachers are assigned experienced mentors who help with everything from identifying key school staff members to planning lessons to mastering classroom management. Through informal classroom observations, mentors identify strengths and weaknesses and help their charges hone their craft.

"We offer a ton of resources and we're very honest from the very beginning that this is going to be hard," professional development director Patrick Uptmore told the Waco Tribune Herald. "It's not a profession that you're perfect in year one."

Waco High School, led by Principal Ed Love for the past three years, has increased its teacher retention from 56 percent to 82 percent, according to the Waco Tribune Herald. Love attributes the success to a new restorative justice program—an approach to discipline that pushes students to reflect on wrongdoing and find a way of making it right, rather than on resorting to suspension. The addition of a behavior specialist and six behavior aides who teachers can call on for assistance in the classroom has also played a big part. (Larry Ferlazzo, a high school teacher and blogger from Sacramento, Calif., rounds up educator feedback on how to practice restorative justice in schools in this blog.)

But it's not just the new approach to discipline in at Waco High School that's encouraging teachers to keep at it. Love said he tries to keep the lines of communication open by hosting a cookout every six weeks and a monthly get-together where teachers can "vent" about any concerns they have.

"It's just building that sense of familiness," Love told the Waco Tribune Herald.

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