Research shows that an effective teacher is the most important factor contributing to student achievement in the classroom. Ask any teacher and they will tell you that they don’t do it alone. They recognize the important role other school staff play, from food service and custodians to paraprofessionals and administration. Effective teachers also need quality staff development and appropriate academic resources available in the classroom.
Hiring the best educators is becoming more challenging as the pool of quality applicants becomes smaller. Fewer students are seeking to enter the education profession creating a tighter job market. The pressure to hire the very best teachers and support staff for our students makes the recruitment and retention of quality professionals a critical area of focus for our district and the second goal in our strategic plan.
Two important initiatives of our district include improving our comprehensive incentive program and enhancing recruitment efforts. Over the last two years, we’ve been fortunate to be able to increase salaries of all staff members in Dalton Public Schools. Staff at all levels had taken pay reductions as well as work-day reductions during the economic recession to help the district manage costs. In our school district, salary and benefits make up 84% of the general fund budget. Education is a people business. In 2018, our board voted to give our staff a 1% raise. In 2019, Gov. Brian Kemp’s $3,000 salary adjustment for teachers was welcomed news. Our board agreed to give a similar increase for all staff in our district. Still many staff members are behind where they were before the recession hit. Our board continues to review compensation annually and take action when adequate funding is available.
We are seeing fewer qualified teaching candidates in specialty areas like special education, math and science entering the job market. To address that issue, our human resources department has enhanced their recruiting efforts by participating in more college career fairs. Next spring, our human resources department is planning to host a district career fair.
Our school district makes a significant investment in hiring and training staff, particularly in the first years of employment. To help in retaining quality teachers, we are enhancing district professional development for new teachers. Our induction begins before school starts and continues with a series of training meetings throughout the first year. We also ensure that new staff are assigned a mentor teacher who can provide support and guidance, thereby reducing the stress and challenges new teachers may experience.
While competitive pay is a key driver in recruitment and retention, we recognize that other factors are also important. Educators need and want relevant and applicable staff development opportunities provided in a variety of ways. While we currently offer two days of district professional development annually, we also have targeted opportunities for teachers to build their capacity. Our district curriculum specialists have led teams of teachers in developing pacing guides, video examples, activities and exemplars based on state resources that help all teachers plan and deliver rigorous and effective instruction. These resources are vitally important, particularly in helping those teachers new to the classroom.
Because it is important to develop future leaders in our district, we have started an Emerging Leaders program that includes all assistant principals and a teacher leader from each school. The program exposes participants to all facets of leadership responsibilities as they seek to advance in their careers or want to become more effective in their current role.
We are also in discussions with the School of Education at Dalton State College on a project called “Dalton Ready.” The program provides opportunities for teacher candidates to be more prepared for a smoother and quicker transition to a classroom in Dalton Public Schools.
Teaching is a rewarding profession and it requires a love for students and the subject matter. We are fortunate to have a very dedicated and highly skilled staff of effective educators in our classrooms. It is imperative that we recruit and retain talented and dedicated professionals who will continue the tradition of excellence in Dalton Public Schools and be the "Dalton Difference."
Tim Scott is superintendent of Dalton Public Schools.