Photo Credit: Savannah Cole
Whit Davis Elementary had the most teachers leave this year of any school in Clarke County with 17.
During the academic year, some teachers in Athens leave the profession altogether. Others move to different districts in nearby counties or to other states. Some relocate with spouses who’ve finished degrees at the University of Georgia. And some retire after decades of working in public schools. That’s typical.
This year, though, Clarke County School District has had many more employees leave than past years. During the 2017-18 school year, CCSD had 320 resignations and 45 retirements among its 2,330 teachers, paraprofessionals, central office staff and support personnel—16 percent of the workforce. In 2016-17, there were 22 retirements and 157 resignations; in 2010-11, there were 128 retirements and resignations combined. The 2017-18 numbers come from documents obtained through an open records request, and they reflect information current for earlier this summer.
For the 2018-19 school year, CCSD “will start with 1,148.5 teaching positions,” according to human resources director Lynn Duke. As of Aug. 1, the district had 30.5 full-time equivalent vacancies.
“The retention of mission-driven, high-quality educators is the main priority for the human resources department moving into the 2018-2019 school year,” School Superintendent Demond Means said in a statement when asked about the exodus. “The retention rate from the 2017-2018 school year will serve as a baseline for our continuous monitoring of this important metric.”
The district plans to reduce “resignations and other departures” by 5 percent annually, according to Means. This year, the administration will gather state and national retention rates for comparable urban school districts.
The information provided by the school district doesn’t indicate the destinations of those who resign—whether they go to another school district or stop teaching. But a 2015 report by the Georgia Professional Standards Commission revealed that 44 percent of public school teachers in the state leave the profession in the first five years of employment. Respondents agreed that teachers are fleeing because they feel “devalued and constantly under pressure.”
In Clarke County, the elementary school where the most employees left was Whit Davis, which lost 17 people, three of whom retired. If leadership was one of the reasons people left the school, things may change. Whit Davis has a new principal, Daniel McGuire, starting this academic year.
Whit Davis was followed by Alps Road and Fowler Drive elementary schools, which each lost 16 people. At Alps, one of those leaving was a retiree. Fowler had three employees retire.
Whitehead Road Elementary had only six resignations—the fewest of any school. Some parents speculated about why teachers don’t leave. “The teachers are all so close to each other and have bonded over the years and seem to support each other,” said Chrissy Marlowe, whose children both attended Whitehead.
Other parents said the school’s leadership supports teachers, students and families. A local chef cooked dinner for the teachers during conferences last school year. Parents routinely work in the school garden, and they convey to the teachers and staff that they are loved, helping to create a culture of inclusiveness. School events are well attended.
Lolita Moye, whose daughter is a first-grader at Whitehead, credits the “positive atmosphere and supportive school community” for keeping personnel at the school. She’s also on the Whitehead PTO board. “The school community and the parents appreciate everything the teachers and staff do for our children,” Moye said. “We make sure to show we love and support them.”
Among middle schools, Burney-Harris-Lyons had 24 departures, including the school’s 2016 Teacher of the Year, Elizabeth McKenzie, who described her teaching style as “loving and firm,” with “high expectations” in her classroom and clear communication with her students about those expectations. Clarke Middle School saw 21 people leave, including a popular social-studies teacher who had received the $500 Freida M. Thomas Teacher of Promise Award in 2016.
Sixteen employees left Hilsman Middle School, three of them retirees, while Coile Middle School saw 13 people leave, including the 2016-17 Teacher of the Year. Two employees at Coile retired.
Both Clarke Central High School and Cedar Shoals High School saw the departure of 28 people. Four employees retired from Clarke Central, and one retiree left Cedar Shoals. Both high schools have new principals this academic year—Derrick Maxwell at Cedar and Swade Huff at Central.
This article has been updated to correct the name of Whit Davis Elementary's principal.