The Columbus Municipal School District will have many new teachers when it begins classes next month.
The district has replaced 175 full-time teachers since the 2013 school year began. During that year, 69 teachers resigned from the district and 12 retired. They were replaced by 84 new hires, according to a review of district personnel documents conducted by The Dispatch.
Last year, 85 full-time teachers resigned, while 16 retired. Ninety-one new teachers have been hired to fill those spaces.
CMSD has approximately 350 certified teachers on staff.
At CMSD’s July board of trustees meeting, 32 teacher resignations were accepted and 43 new teachers were hired.
Superintendent Dr. Philip Hickman, who was hired to the lead the district a year ago, said many of the teachers left Columbus High School, Columbus Middle School and Franklin Elementary School — all three of which changed principals last year.
“Those people left mainly from buildings with administrative turnover,” Hickman told The Dispatch. “That’s normal. We had one-third of our principals resign, so many of their staff resigned, too.”
Hickman said many of the district’s departing educators have left the Columbus area. Others, he said, found higher paying jobs.
The issue of teachers leaving the district is not as prevalent in the Lowndes County School District.
Since the start of the 2013-2014 school year, LCSD has had 66 teachers resign, 17 retire and has not renewed the contract of 41 others. In that time, the district approved the hiring of 129 teachers.
LCSD has about 400 certified teachers on staff.
Superintendent Lynn Wright told The Dispatch the district has been able to be selective when making new hires, with about 25 to 30 applicants for each teaching position posted recently.
“We’ve been very blessed,” Wright said. “We have a good number of applicants on hand.”
Wright said LCSD has many teachers who are attached to spouses working at Columbus Air Force Base, and that can lead to increased turnover in the area. He said the district does much of its hiring in the spring.
Dealing with teacher shortage
Hickman and Wright both addressed the challenge of finding teachers to fill positions.
High school math and science teachers, as well as foreign language instructors, can be tough to come by. Hickman said the challenge is convincing young, talented high school and college students to go into education — an industry not known for high pay.
Wright echoed those statements.
“We’ve got to do a better job of bringing young people into the profession,” he said. “People who go into teaching do it for love, not money.”
Hickman said he has learned Mississippi does not lack for certified teachers, but that those teachers are selective in their job searches.
“Research shows there’s not a teacher shortage in Mississippi,” Hickman said. “We have a lot of teachers sitting at home waiting for jobs to open up in more suburban districts.”
Kelly Riley, executive director of Mississippi Professional Educators, a professional organization with around 12,600 members statewide, said changes in education are causing many older teachers to leave the profession.
“Statewide, we are seeing more of our veteran educators retire,” Riley told The Dispatch last week. “Of course, you’ll hear ‘I have my years in.’ You have teachers in the classroom who surpass that 25-year mark and go on to stay 35 to 40 years. There’s a lot of change going on right now in education. I would attribute resignations more to the constant state of change than I would any administrative changes.”
Riley first noticed a spike in retirements in the 2010. She said the state is in the third year of doing principal assessments at each school, putting more pressure on the whole staff.
“Within a district, you can have turnover difference between schools just based on the level of support that the teachers in those schools perceive that they are receiving from their principals,” Riley said.
MPE is hopeful that efforts such as “Teacher Academies” from the University of Mississippi and Mississippi State University will lead to more people entering the profession. The academies offer high school students interested in becoming teachers introductory courses. Last May, MSU hosted a three day teaching academy for high school students.
“I don’t know if the teaching profession as a whole is as respected as it once was,” she said. “So, I don’t know if the public encourages some of our youngest and our brightest to enter into teaching, which is frankly very disappointing and very sad.”
Riley said Golden Triangle districts are fortunate because they can recruit new hires out of MSU and Mississippi University for Women.
Teachers hired by CMSD have averaged approximately four and a half years of teaching experience, according to district documents.
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