Parent Expresses ‘Concern About High Staff Turnover’ in SoHum School District’
Last spring I expressed my concern about high staff turnover in the Southern Humboldt School District, and made allegations to the SHUSD School Board of hostile management by Superintendent Catherine Scott. They were not made lightly and were the result of interviews and research. I also asked the School Board for an explanation of the high staff turnover, and its plan to stop it.
The Board did not take any action. It didn’t ask me for more information, respond favorably to my request for an investigation, nor, apparently, research the issue itself. Instead, it gave Ms. Scott a favorable performance review, and confirmed her contract for another year.
We have already lost over 50% of our faculty since the beginning of Ms. Scott’s tenure. Last year 4 more excellent staff members were ousted. One member of the Board says that many of the previous 3 years’ losses were simply because staff was at retirement age when Ms. Scott came on board. Some of them were, but some were not, and the Board never actually asked them why they left, nor did they conduct any sort of exit survey. It also does not seem interested in surveying our current staff.
So I decided to do it myself.
Last June, other concerned parents and I founded EASE – Educational and Administrative Support Effort – and devised a Staff Satisfaction Survey, which was delivered to 66 members of South Fork, Agnes Johnson, Whitethorn and Redway Schools. Casterlin, the District Office and Miranda Junior High were not surveyed.
66 total surveys were distributed and 23 returned (35%).
As reported in The Humboldt Independent earlier this year, a 12% return rate is considered an enormous success, indicative of a very committed and engaged population. Ours was nearly triple that.
There were 41 questions. In the interests of space, I am only reporting a selection that received a high percentage of agreement/disagreement.
72% feel that their input is not valued and respected by the administration.
79% feel that they are not safe expressing their opinion.
79% feel that they are not encouraged to share their ideas, vision and criticism.
73% feel that their administrator does not respond appropriately and professionally to their concerns.
84% do not feel comfortable expressing an opinion that differs from that of the administration.
64% fear retribution for sharing thoughts, opinions or when they disagree with the administration on their actions and responses.
78% do not agree that the goal of attracting and retaining highly qualified staff is evident in the actions and decisions of the administration
89% do not feel hopeful and positive about the direction the district is going
81% are not satisfied with their job at SHUSD.
77% have considered other employment or early retirement in the last 3 years due to the climate at SHUSD.
61% would not place their child in their school.
This is heartbreaking in so many ways. And alarming.
From a social standpoint, working with students takes dedication, courage and fortitude, and for most teachers it is a life calling. In my opinion, teachers are among the most important professionals around. They have invested years training for one of the most significant jobs there is: informing and forming the next generation.
Our teachers are also friends, neighbors, parents, community members and role models. They, and the staff that support them and our students, deserve recognition and respect on the job and off.
From an educational standpoint, in order to teach our students independence, democracy, critical thinking, and argumentation, our teachers must be able to practice these skills. An environment where they feel unsafe to risk, disagree, or express thoughts and opinions is not conducive to sharing these skills.
From a common sense standpoint, there is a national teacher shortage. Southern Humboldt, in particular, has a hard time finding and retaining quality employees in any sector. Retaining and investing in our teachers should be of primary importance to our district.
Superintendent Scott has informed me that she is legally unable to discuss the EASE Staff Satisfaction Survey with me, although I have met with her and Trustee Barbara Lindsey to discuss my personal concerns.
I feel strongly that the Board is not serving the school district by refusing to consider these issues. I understand that it can only take action on items placed on the agenda by a Board member or the Superintendent, or in response to an official complaint. I urge the Board to place the high staff turnover and allegations of hostile management on the Board agenda.
Superintendent Scott told me that she has considered doing an official SHUSD Staff Satisfaction Survey, which I strongly support. It should be done professionally, it should not be managed by Superintendent Scott, and it should be done soon. To be effective, it must include questions suggested anonymously by staff, as well as many of the questions from the EASE Staff Satisfaction Survey. It also must be absolutely anonymous, to ensure that staff feel safe answering openly.
Running a school district is a difficult job. To really work it must be a community endeavor. I urge parents and community members to attend Board meetings, ask questions, write letters, share stories, volunteer and get to know our Board members and SHUSD staff. Let the Board and administration know that you care, and are paying attention.
I certainly am.