DALTON, Ga. — Dalton Public Schools is working to enhance employee retention and continually striving to improve student success, school board members were told this week.
While most schools in the system already had some type of teacher mentorship program in place, only recently has the system required every school “to do something,” and a mentorship program “is one of the most commonly asked questions” from potential hires, Mendy Woods, chief human resources officer for the system, outlined during a work session prior to Monday’s meeting of the Dalton Board of Education.
While the programs vary slightly from school to school, there are some commonalities.
For example, mentors always have at least three years of experience; mentors are assigned by administrators to mentees based on content level, team and/or grade level; and the success of the partnership is measured by the growth of the new teacher, Woods said. Mentors and mentees meet at least quarterly, if not monthly.
In addition, the “canvas” website that began “as a repository” has developed into “an incredible tool and guide for all content levels,” Woods said. On the canvas site, teachers can locate various resources, from state standards to pacing recommendations.
The canvas site actually “crosses over among multiple goals” in the system’s strategic plan, and “these are all worked on by teams of teachers,” said Laura Orr, chief academic officer. “We have the voice of teachers on this.”
Based on analytics, administrators can even see when teachers are using the canvas site, Woods said. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Sunday nights are the most popular time.
Moving forward, the canvas site will continue to be updated to reflect changes in standards; the goal is to add even more materials, particularly in social studies; and administrators hope to supplement additional resources for all educators, as the majority of the canvas site is currently geared toward classroom teachers, Woods said. “We’ll survey all teachers at the end of the year to see what is working and what is not.”
Additionally, this is the first year of an emerging leaders program, she said. An assistant principal and teacher-leader from each school attend monthly sessions covering all areas of district administration, and “some good conversations go on in those groups.”
Dalton Public Schools plans to continue this program with the same group for a second year, Woods said. A new cohort will be added in fiscal year 2021, perhaps with two teacher-leaders from each school.
The partnership between Dalton Public Schools and Dalton State College education students is one area that hasn’t advanced as far as Woods would like, but her hope is to offer a quasi pre-employment internship in Dalton Public Schools for those at Dalton State planning to be teachers, she said. They’d grow accustomed to Dalton Public Schools and be “Dalton Ready so we can offer them a contract” when eligible, and “we want Dalton State kids to see it as a goal to be selected for our Dalton Ready program.”
Woods also believes Dalton Public Schools needs to boost pay for teachers.
Currently, Dalton Public Schools is lower in salary at most levels of employment than Whitfield County Schools, she said. “We need that competitive edge, and we’re not there, yet.”
A signing bonus in the range of $1,200 to $2,000, particularly for recruits in the “hard-to-fill” areas of math, science and special education, could also help differentiate Dalton Public Schools from others, she said. Other schools do utilize bonuses to attract teachers, and “I think we need to look at incentives.”
Another element of recruiting is hosting job fairs, and Dalton Public Schools will hold one on March 7 at Dalton Middle School, Woods said. While the target audience will be certified teachers, those interested in other aspects of education will also be welcome at the fair.
Each Dalton Public Schools school will have its own room on that Saturday at the middle school, said Tim Scott, superintendent of Dalton Public Schools. Representatives from the schools are invited to decorate their rooms however they like and devise creative ways to share information with prospective recruits.
Also during the work session, Christina Siebold, a partner and senior strategist with Q Strategies, a strategic planning and communications firm in Chattanooga, shared information on the preliminary data-gathering process for marketing the new magnet school for grades 10-12 that will open in the fall of 2021 and offer specialized courses and curricula. That fall, Dalton High School will also become a 10-12 school, while Morris Innovative High School will close and be replaced by the magnet school, which will operate on the campus that currently hosts Dalton Middle School.
Siebold and others have already spoken to local “stakeholders” in small groups and one on one, but “we want even more input,” so they’ll soon send out surveys, she said. Q Strategies plans to have a report ready for Dalton Public Schools in May, which will include naming recommendations for the magnet school.
While it’s “too early” to make any definitive statements, including “Dalton” in the magnet school’s name may be critical, Siebold said. Based on her early research, “the level of pride in the word ‘Dalton’ here is unlike any I’ve seen in any other community.”
In fact, there’s plenty of pride in Dalton High School, Morris Innovative High School and Dalton Middle School among students and staff, she said. “You all are doing something right here.”
Based on her discussions with students, the size of the current Dalton High School is an “anxiety” point for many, she said. Consequently, the fact the magnet school will be a smaller setting could prove a draw for many students.
Dalton Public Schools also needs to do more to explain the concept of a magnet school to the community, based on her early observations, Siebold said. “There’s not a lot of clarity on magnet schools with parents.”