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Teachers Leave, Principals Shuffled at Clarke County Schools

At the end of the 2018–19 school year, 155 Clarke County School District teachers out of 1,148 opted not to return. The list doesn’t include paraprofessionals, lunchroom workers, bus drivers or other employees who keep the school district functioning smoothly. Nor does it indicate whether teachers retired or resigned, or whether they left the district or even the teaching profession altogether.

Teacher retention is a problem not just in Clarke County but across the country. Studies show that losing professional employees is costly and time-consuming, as well as disruptive for children and parents.

At the CCSD Board of Education work session last week, Superintendent Demond Means said he will address vacancies at this week’s scheduled meeting on Thursday. He also said he’s planning to give the board information in an upcoming meeting about the difficulties of hiring for Title I (high poverty) schools. “Candidly,” he said, “the numbers we’re seeing are really average for the nation.”

According to information supplied by CCSD officials, Cedar Shoals and Clarke Central high schools each lost 15 teachers. Hilsman led the middle schools with 13 resignations, followed by Burney-Harris-Lyons at 12 and Coile and Clarke Middle each losing 11 teachers. 

Whitehead Road Elementary and Gaines Elementary lost 11 teachers each. Stroud lost 10 teachers, followed by Chase with nine, J.J. Harris with seven and Fowler Drive, Cleveland Road, Alps Road and Oglethorpe Avenue with six each. Barrow, Winterville, Barnett Shoals and Whit Davis each saw four teachers resign. 

With classes starting on Aug. 5, the Clarke County School District had 86 job vacancies—from Spanish teachers to special education paraprofessionals, bus drivers and secretaries—as of Aug. 2.

At the board’s August 1 work session, one speaker was Stacey Neuharth-Pritchett, associate dean of academic programs in the UGA College of Education. She gave a presentation on UGA’s partnership with CCSD, noting that the school district has hired 183 College of Education graduates since 2013, 70.5 percent of whom stayed in the district for more than a year. Board member Greg Davis thought this number was low.

Since 2016, education students have had 4,428 “field experiences” at CCSD, such as internships and student teaching stints.

Several Clarke County teachers who welcomed back students on Monday said they experienced a less than pleasant welcome from school district administrators. They learned their students must perform at or above grade level on the Georgia Milestones test, even if the students enter their classrooms not performing on grade level. Theoretically, a third grade teacher could have incoming students reading on a first grade level, or not at all, but if those students don’t score well on a standardized test, the teacher could receive a poor evaluation, teachers said they have been told.

“We have not expressed to principals or heard from staff that teachers’ evaluation should be or will be lowered based on student performance on Milestones,” CCSD Chief Academic Officer Brandon Gaskins told Flagpole. “Our evaluation system includes several standards that we use to assess the effectiveness of teachers that include but are not limited to positive communication with families, creating a positive learning environment for students, and fostering an academically challenging environment.  Although we as a district hold high expectations for student performance and expect our teachers to provide great instruction to support our students, student performance is not the sole component of a teacher’s evaluation.”

The superintendent’s chief of staff, Xernona Thomas, said while she didn’t attend all the meetings this summer with “building leaders,” she has been at most of them. “At no time have I heard this expressed,” Thomas said. “I have heard that the expectation is to teach standards with fidelity and to work diligently to ensure that the academic needs of all students are being met.”

Who’s Your Child’s Principal?

A combination of retirements, resignations and personnel movements within the school district means that seven out of CCSD’s 21 schools have new leadership, and two more started the year without a principal. Here’s who went where.

Alps Road Elementary: Anita Lumpkin Barrett became the district’s science curriculum coordinator. Means recommended Natosha D. Harris for the position in July, but she withdrew after criticism of a perceived personal connection—both hail from Milwaukee, and she is a member of the same sorority as Means’ wife—though Means denied knowing her. Means said last week that he will present another finalist to the board on Thursday. 

Barnett Shoals Elementary: Jennifer Scott is now director of innovation and strategy, overseeing four principals, as well as the Title I, early learning, career academy, gifted and AVID programs. Assistant principal Aliceson Nobles was promoted to principal.

Chase Street Elementary: Andrea Neher resigned after only a year on the job because, she said, Means gave her a negative review. She is now a principal in Winder. The school board approved Nikki Hittle, a former elementary school principal in Washington state, on Aug. 1.

Clarke Middle School: Longtime principal Tad MacMillan retired. Assistant principal Christopher Pendley took his place.

Fowler Drive Elementary: Anissa Johnson resigned to take a job in Henry County. No permanent replacement has been named. Means has said that the district has received few applications, and the job was recently reposted for the fourth time.

Gaines Elementary: Robert Ezekiel moved to the central office to become director of assessment and accountability. Luther McDaniel transferred from Whitehead Road to become the new principal.

Hilsman Middle: Utevia Tolbert was named special education coordinator of elementary behavior supports, a newly created position that oversees the Compass and RISE programs at Gaines, Winterville and Cleveland Road. The school board approved the hiring of Capucina Douglass, formerly principal of Social Circle Middle School in Walton County, at a called meeting July 18.

Oglethorpe Avenue Elementary: Scarlett Dunne retired after 32 years with CCSD. Bipul K. Singh, an elementary school principal in Gwinnett County, took her place.

Whitehead Road Elementary: McDaniel’s transfer to Gaines left a vacancy, which was filled by Coile Middle School assistant principal April Braswell.