CONYERS — For the past year, Rockdale County Public Schools Chief Human Resources Officer Dr. Kim McDermon has made it a top priority to produce a stronger teacher workforce and retention rate, combatting against state and national level data.
In 2015, the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Educational Statistics found that 17% of U.S. teachers with 0-5 years of experience end up leaving the field, while the Georgia Professional Standards Commission reported that half of new Georgia teachers leave annually.
“Keeping teachers that come straight out of college is not a Rockdale problem, but a national one,” said McDermon.
In 2019, RCPS reported that 16.5% of teachers with less than five years experience left the district.
But McDermon said that the HR Division is putting up a good fight in order to retain educators new to the field.
“Our HR Division touches all employees,” said McDermon. “From benefits, workers comp, contracts, certifications, investigations — teachers, bus drivers, superintendent’s cabinet, everyone goes through HR.”
McDermon also explained that the number one priority and customer for HR is the student population.
“Our teachers are our most precious resource, but the students come first,” said McDermon. “We want to start answering every problem or opportunity with what is best for our kids.”
When she joined RCPS in March 2019, the first step she took was reconfiguring and continuing the school system’s recruiting efforts. “We vet all our applicants thoroughly,” said McDermon. “We check references, performance records, conduct performance assessments, background checks; if you get hired to work in one of our schools, you have gone through a very stringent hiring process. We want to make sure we hire well on the front end to ensure that our students have a better experience.”
McDermon also said RCPS hires more minority educators than the surrounding districts in effort to inspire and reflect the student population.
“We are going to hire the best and the brightest, but if we can also work to diversify our teacher workforce to ensure it reflects our student body, then we also want to do that,” said McDermon. “We want people our students can look up to.”
So why do younger teachers leave?
“A lot of time, teachers just want to be heard,” said McDermon. “Fortunately, Dr. Oatts takes the time to listen and make changes were he can so our educators know they are valued.”
Every year, RCPS Superintendent Dr. Terry Oatts orchestrates a teacher advisory council (TAC.) This year’s TAC is made up of 23 teachers in their first five years of educating in Rockdale County.
“Our superintendent is very aware, intentional and proactive when it comes to losing teachers in their first five years,” said McDermon. “So he made this council so he could ask questions and let them know they are heard. Thirty-five teachers might be a small sample, but it is a sample that we are in danger of losing.”
In November 2019, this group engaged in an internal study revolving around retention in RCPS. From that session, teachers indicated that the superintendent’s efforts to hear their feedback was a step in the right direction.
One secondary teacher stated, “I think any time there’s been an effort to show that the system is listening and that they’re coming at this from a problem-solving perspective is important.”
RCPS also has a mentoring program for new teachers.
“Our induction phase teachers (0-3 years) receive support through a collaborative coaching model; after hours training, pull-out and push-in training, video coaching and school-based mentors,” said McDermon.
Additionally, there are four days of New Teacher Orientation at the beginning of every school year for any teacher new to Rockdale County.
Another effort HR makes is going in every school and partnering with leadership.
“We do our best to support our principals,” said McDermon. “What we know is that leadership matters to the students and the teachers, and we want to make sure our principals are aware that what they do has a ripple effect both positive and negative.”
The RCPS Board of Education has also implemented multiple incentives to retain teachers in hard-to-fill positions such as special education, foreign language, ROTC, math and science.
In January, RCPS paid out more than $400,000 in incentives to teachers who work in these fields.
RCPS has multiple teacher reward programs, including Honor and STAR. Last year, RCPS awarded more than 80 teachers in these two programs for a total of $45,000.
According to The New Teacher Project, “Recognition for K-12 teachers has been linked to increased levels of motivation for educators...Research further indicates that recognition for good work encourages teachers to remain longer at their current schools.”
As of this year, RCPS has a total of 1,398 certified educators with 263 of them having less than five years experience, 233 having five to 10 years, and 902 teachers having more than 10 years experience.
During the summer of 2019, RCPS had 268 new hires, roughly 19% of the teacher population.
When subtracting the number of retirees, 16.5% of those new hires were to replace teachers who left for all other reasons.
“We are fortunate to have such a fine veteran group of teachers. However, it is important for us to grow and retain our teachers who have fewer years of experience,” said McDermon. “That’s what we are working on every day.”
“I commend our HR and Finance Divisions for their innovative efforts to enhance our recruitment and retention of world-class teachers,” said Oatts. “As a district, we are more focused than ever before on recruiting, retaining, and growing high quality instructional, administrative and support personnel.”