Cleveland High School Plagued by Teacher Turnover

By Abbygail Eleccion

With  South Seattle’s Cleveland High School slowly making a name for itself through its test scores, athletics and its revitalized school  spirit, the amount of teachers leaving each year just doesn’t add up. According to the U.S. Department of Education, in the 2012-13 school year, 85 percent of new teachers stayed at their school. That is not the case for Cleveland.

In the 2012-13 school year, 14 new staff members arrived at Cleveland. By the 2014-15 school year, almost half of those were gone, and 13 more staff members were hired. A report published by the Alliance for Excellent Education cited that roughly 13 percent of the nation’s 3.4 million teachers moves schools or leave the profession every year. It’s estimated that between 40 and 50 percent quit within five years.

The high turnover rates are sometimes due to layoffs, “but the primary reason they leave is because they’re dissatisfied,” said Richard Ingersoll, an education professor at the University of Pennsylvania. His research on teacher retention was published in the report. Teachers say they leave because of inadequate administrative support and isolated working conditions, among other things. These losses disproportionately affect high-poverty, urban and rural schools, where teaching staffs often lack experience.

Principal George Breland, in his second year at Cleveland, believes that teacher departures can be traced back to personnel conflicts, personal issues or better opportunities that require a job change.

Katie Wallace, a former Spanish teacher at Cleveland, recently took a job at Rainier Beach High School as both a Spanish teacher and activities coordinator.

“At first, I denied the offer because I felt so settled at Cleveland,” Wallace said. “But I knew I’d be kicking myself later because that was my dream job.”

Kathleen Dunbar, the former librarian, also left for another school, taking a job closer to her home in Issaquah.

“This local connection required that I leave Cleveland, and that was not easy for me emotionally,” Dunbar explained. Being at Eastlake High School will allow her to be more involved with her community.

Many teachers at Cleveland face unique problems based on the school’s STEM program and project based-learning curriculum. Staff members are required to attend weekly meetings, and each department has separate meeting times as well. The hectic schedule can be taxing, especially on those teachers who have small children.

Math teacher Genny Van Laar, one of the teachers who arrived in the 2012, was on the verge of leaving.

“This has to be the best school I’ve worked at out of the four schools I’ve been to.” But, according to her, planning lessons and after-school meetings took a lot out of her personal time.

“I know it would improve my quality of life if I worked at a school closer to home,” Van Laar said. But she chose to stay at CHS for her students.

Staff changes don’t go unnoticed among students. Wallace’s departure, which was announced closely to the start of the school year, left many students worried about having a substitute or taking Spanish under a teacher they didn’t know. Sophomore Phuong Tran was looking forward to having Wallace as a teacher.

“I was devastated. I used to look forward to Spanish, but now I don’t.”

Teacher departures have had an impact on the school’s culture as well. Since they are unfamiliar with how the school is run, new hires bring in new energy. Government teacher Evin Shinn and Video Production teacher Bryan Gordon are among the newer staff members that have students taking notice. Both men are working hard to get students to buy into the concept of school spirit.

Principal Breland has a plan for keeping teachers, but first, he wants to identify the problems that cause them to want to leave. He’ll then figure out a plan to help support the teachers and staff with the help his fellow administrators.

Van Laar had her own solution to get teachers to stay at Cleveland.

“It would be nice if we got a longer lunch time.”

This story contains statistical information published by Huffington Post in July 2014 on a story about teacher retention rates.

Abbygail Eleccion is currently a student at Cleveland High School

One thought on “Cleveland High School Plagued by Teacher Turnover”

  1. Jeff Shaver's STEM Blog – Austin, TX – At the Charles A. Dana Center (UT Austin), I work on the development of course programs for the New Mathways Project, the Center’s national higher education developmental mathematics reform initiative. In addition, I serve as the Higher Education team’s liaison to the Online Services and K–12 Services teams at the Center. I also present findings at national and regional conferences of professional mathematics organizations to inform the mathematics community about best practices in teaching developmental mathematics students. Additionally, I engage faculty in the developmental process and edits materials into a coherent and comprehensive curriculum, including instructor notes and support materials.
    Jeff Shaver says:

    I’m a former, proud Cleveland teacher that left before I wanted to, and it had nothing to do with a lack of experience, the students, or the community. As is mentioned in the article, for me it was a lack of administrative support and effective leadership (though the record likely indicates that I left for a better job, since I took a job at the Univ. of Washington). And, I can almost guarantee that most of the other Cleveland teachers left for similar reasons. I would be interested in some research on the lack of experience in administrators in high-poverty, urban and rural schools (since the article references lack of experience in teachers in these settings). I’m happy to share my story, if anyone is interested. I left Cleveland almost three years ago, and it still makes me sad to think of how bad it was to need to leave such wonderful fellow teachers, staff, students, a families.