‘Grow your own’ approach helps rural schools develop and keep local teachers

‘Grow your own’ approach helps rural schools develop and keep local teachers
A flag waves at the front of Floydada High School.

CROSBYTON, TX (KCBD) - In Texas, out of 1,247 school districts the Texas Education Agency categorizes 459 of them as rural. That more than likely means those 459 are facing either a teacher shortage, or a teacher retention issue.

Within the past few years the rural districts struggles with teachers going to and sticking around rural schools has been highlighted by the state and officials have been putting more focus the issue.

More specifically, rural schools are suffering from what administrators call a “revolving door,” meaning teachers come to the district and leave within a year. This was part of the catalyst that forced administrators at Crosbyton Consolidated Independent School District to think a bit more creatively.

“When you start searching, just a little further away from Lubbock, a lot of times you get folks that want to work here but they don’t want to live here,” Shawn Mason, Crosbyton’s superintendent, said. “So they commute in every day, and they don’t last. It’s hard for somebody to commute for 20 years, I mean, that just doesn’t happen.”

A sign in front of Crosbyton CISD reads, "everything you don't know is something you can learn."
A sign in front of Crosbyton CISD reads, "everything you don't know is something you can learn." (Source: Michael Cantu)

The unique issue Crosbyton faced was a group of elementary school teachers, who were embedded in the community and working at the school for decades, retired around the same time. This left lots of positions to fill, which were mainly offered and sought by younger teachers.

The school district then started discussions with the dean of the College of Education at Texas Tech, who at the time was Scott Ridley. With Ridley’s help the district was able to incorporate programs that provided teacher candidates to the schools and create a pipeline to establish rural educators.

Based off of data acquired by the College of Education, it is estimated 60% of newly graduated teacher candidates from Tech go somewhere other than the South Plains, Doug Hamman, professor in the college and director of Teacher Education at Tech, said.

One reason some teachers might not stay is perception. Though some larger school districts may offer better pay, Hamman said, there are many rural districts that pay similar salaries as non-rural districts.

There is also a struggle in enticing someone to go out and teach in a rural district. Some research shows most people who enter the teaching field stay within a 50-mile radius of where they grew up.

“We have a lot of teachers in Dallas, Houston and San Antonio but when it comes to finding somebody for a math position in Balmorhea, it’s a little bit of a struggle,” Hamman said.

In 2016 the Texas Rural Schools Task Force was created by the TEA and one of its members was Floydada ISD’s Superintendent Gilbert Trevino.

It was with his help and input a report was commissioned and published that showed the needs of rural districts, which were mainly on the subject of teacher retention. At the time, the TEA was concerned with a teacher shortage in the state, which was hurting smaller, rural schools more than anything else.

“One of the biggest (ideas) is to grown your own and that is something we tried to enforce here in Floydada ISD, to catch our teachers early,” Trevino said. “This year, for example, we created a pathway that will allow students to take some courses at the high school level, that will prepare them, expose them to what it’s like to be a teacher.”

The idea behind Floydada’s program is to introduce its high school students to learning and developing lesson plans, teach ideas to others and give them credit that can transfer into a university’s degree plan, he said. This serves to provide a type of job-training that can also increase interest in going to college and getting a degree.

The district is also reaching out to its community members who already have a bachelor’s degree and encourage them to get into teaching through an alternative teacher certification program. This increases the likelihood of having an established community member teaching in the district’s school.

Similar tactics have been incorporated in Crosbyton as well, Mason said.

Crosbyton has taken advantage of Tech’s 2+1 Program, which allows those with an associate’s degree to earn a teacher certification and bachelor’s degree whiles still working at a school.

“It’s kind of like a junior college setup. At our elementary we have three or four ladies in the community who are up every evening and work online on community college work,” Mason said. “They work on getting their associate’s degree, so they can get into the 2+1 program. They’re local, they’re established here – similar to the folks that we lost.”

Crosbyton CISD vocational business, science and administration building.
Crosbyton CISD vocational business, science and administration building. (Source: Michael Cantu)

The payoff for the schools comes in a few different forms.

For Mason, it is the lack of stress in trying to hire new teachers for the schools he manages. He has been able to replace seven teachers in the last three years. Two of those teachers were from within the community.

Though the number may seem small, seven teacher positions in a district that staffs almost 40 teachers is quite a noticeable amount.

Testing scores are also doing well within the district too, both superintendents said. It is one of the biggest benefits the school can get because the teachers know how to get the student’s attention and keep them involved in classroom activities.

“I do think a lot of our students know these teachers, know the family. Our teachers may know those students and their families as well,” Trevino said. “There’s already that partnership that has been forced, that relationship has been built.”

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