The week before last, five Loudoun schools were identified by Governor O'Donnell as "hard-to-staff," and are now targeted for remediation efforts which may include offering $5,000 bonuses to teachers who demonstrate they've improved the situation. In a story in Leesburg Today, Dr. Hatrick is quoted as saying, "Frankly, we're still trying to figure out why the schools for Loudoun are on the list," he said. "I think it may have something to do with the number of new teachers in schools whose licenses have yet to process."
I initially assumed, given the context of constant district expansion, that these four schools are having challenges filling new positions. From that perspective, it is too easy to attribute any problems as simple results of high district growth. But is it that simple?
The state is clear on the eight criteria used to assess these schools:
- Accredited with warning;
- Average daily attendance rate is two percentage points below the statewide average;
- Percent of special education students exceeds 150 percent of the statewide average;
- Percent of limited English proficient (LEP) students exceeds 150 percent of the statewide average;
- Percent of teachers with provisional licenses exceeds 150 percent of the statewide average;
- Percent of special education teachers with provisional special education licenses exceeds 150 percent of the statewide average;
- Percent of inexperienced teachers (0 years of teaching experience) hired to total teachers exceeds 150 percent of the statewide average; and
- School has one or more inexperienced teachers (0 years of teaching experience) in a critical shortage area.
None of the four schools cited by the governor opened four months ago (or even 16 months ago), so we can't just say that those schools have been hiring lots of new teachers as a direct result of system expansion; it's more likely it's an indirect result. As new schools open, they represent opportunities for existing staff to move both toward desirable situations and away from undesirable ones. Research shows that longer tenured staff tend to receive priority in internal staffing moves, thus leaving schools with challenging situations with more openings and less experienced staff.
On their face, the limited, published statements from our superintendent may lead us to too quickly believe that the problems at these four schools are the direct result of expansion; in all likelihood, they are not. We have no way to tell what's going on in these cases, but I hope LCPS Administration and the School Board are working to identify solutions to the real issues involved and are not shrugging them off as growing pains.