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Idaho’s teacher retention rate remained high during the pandemic

Idaho’s teacher retention rate remained high during the pandemic
Posted at 9:11 AM, Jul 07, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-07 11:11:00-04

This article was originally published by Nik Streng in Idaho Ed News.

Most Idaho teachers remained in the Idaho teaching profession last year, despite concerns that stress and burnout from the pandemic would cause turnover.

Idaho retained 91% of its teachers in 2020, eclipsing rates from 2019 (89%) and 2018 (90.3%). Idaho's rate is in line with the national rate of 92%, according to data EdNews obtained from the State Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Education.

State Department of Education spokeswoman Kris Rodine said Idaho has nearly hit its teacher retention rate goal of 92%.

"That is a good thing," she said.

A global pandemic forced educators to change their teaching habits, moving virtual at times and adapting to new safety protocols. Over 40 percent of teachers and classified staff said they were more frustrated and burned out at the start of 2021 than ever before, according to an Idaho Education Association poll.

But that frustration and burnout didn't cause them to change professions. Not one teacher left in at least 12 school districts and charters with a 100% teacher retention rate:

  • Swan Valley Elementary District (100% in 2019)
  • Prairie Elementary District (100% in 2019)
  • Troy School District (95% in 2019)
  • Arbon Elementary District (100% in 2019)
  • Avery Elementary District (100% in 2019)
  • Three Creek Joint Elementary District (100% in 2019)
  • Midvale School District (77.8% in 2019)
  • iSucceed Virtual High School (100% in 2019)
  • Idaho Virtual Education Partners (94.7% in 2019)
  • Kootenai Bridge Academy (100% in 2019)
  • Legacy Public Charter School (92.3% in 2019)
  • Idaho College and Career Readiness Academy (77.8% in 2019)

Idaho's two largest districts also have historically strong retention rates. West Ada kept 91.3% of its teachers while Boise had a retention rate of 92.1% this past school year.

Boise spokesman Dan Hollar said his district uses competitive wages to attract and retain teachers. Boise's average teacher salary has risen by $10,000 in recent years, from $52,000 in the 2014 to $62,000 in 2020. Comparing Idaho's larger districts, Boise's average teacher salary is second only to Blaine County's average of $75,000.

Boise also has a mentoring program which Hollar said gives new teachers — either new to the profession or new to the district — a "tremendous amount of support."

Hollar added that the Boise School District has an easier time finding qualified staff members because of its location in Idaho's largest urban area and home of the state's largest university, Boise State University. The district does still struggle to find special education and career and technical education teachers, as well as some classified positions, like electricians and plumbers, he said.

Rodine added that the struggle with hiring certain positions is something many districts are experiencing, specifically with special education, math, science, and career and technical education positions.

Some schools lost teachers during the pandemic

Sandwiched between Boise and McCall, the Cascade School District watched its teacher retention rate plummet in 2020. The district's rate was 75% in 2019 but fell to 52.4% in 2020, so losing nearly half of its teaching staff.

While Cascade has all of its teacher positions filled for the 2021-2022 school year, Superintendent Jeff Blaser said COVID-19 played a role in the district's drop in retention. Blaser has been the superintendent in Cascade since 2018 and will be retiring at the end of June, but he said the school district is working on addressing the teacher turnover rate.

Blaser said Idaho districts, especially the small rural districts, need to focus on the district culture when addressing teacher retention.

These seven Idaho school districts and charters had retention rates below 60%:

  • Cascade School District: 52.4% (75% in 2019)
  • Pleasant Valley Elementary District: 50% (100% in 2019)
  • Monticello Montessori Charter School: 45.5% (77.8% in 2019)
  • Upper Carmen Public Charter School: 44.4% (100% in 2019)
  • Idaho STEM Academy: 38.5% (54.5% in 2019)
  • Syringa Mountain School: 37.5% (70% in 2019)
  • Project Impact STEM Academy: 33.3% (no previous year data)

Monticello Montessori, based in Ammon, has made headlines in recent months when its executive director, Erica Kemery was let go amid controversy, followed by the sudden resignation of board chair Ken Glodo. The school has been under investigation by the Idaho Public Charter School Commission for unexplained payments and purchases, and violation of state special education laws.

Turnover for small schools and charters can fluctuate year-by-year because of a small staff size. Upper Carmen Public Charter serves 53 students and had just four certified staff members in 2020.

How to keep teachers happy

Despite the strong teacher retention numbers, Idaho Education Association President Layne McInelly said Idaho still has work to do when it comes to keeping teachers happy.

"Teacher retention is always a concern for us," McInelly said.

McInelly said the IEA is encouraging the governor and the State Department of Education to use some of the $800 million surplus to address teacher needs, like lowering class sizes and hiring more "necessary personnel" like nurses and school psychologists.

"That's all on the teachers at some schools," McInelly said. "They need more resources. That will help educators want to stay in the classroom."

McInelly added that Idaho's teacher salary plan has been effective at bringing new teachers to Idaho, but he is unsure of how effective it's been in keeping veteran teachers. Pay raises for Idaho teachers have been a priority for Gov. Brad Little, who led the successful charge to increase minimum teacher salaries to $40,000.

Idaho Education News data analyst Randy Schrader contributed to this report.