Million Dollar Teacher Project helps retain educators

Madrid Neighborhood School, pictured here, boasts a 100% teacher retention rate. It is the first school to work with the Million Dollar Teacher Project, a teacher retention and recruitment nonprofit working to increase recognition, compensation and support for educators. PHOTO COURTESY OF MADRID NEIGHBORHOOD SCHOOL VIA FACEBOOK

Million Dollar Teacher Project helps retain educators

Madrid Neighborhood School, a K-8 campus in Alhambra Elementary School District, is entering the school year with a 100% teacher retention rate.

As the first school to work with the Million Dollar Teacher Project, a teacher retention and recruitment nonprofit working to increase recognition, compensation and support for educators, educators at Madrid Neighborhood School benefit from a Take a Teacher to Lunch program, additional classroom aids and bonuses for selected teachers.

Lloyd Hopkins

Lloyd Hopkins, founder of MDTP, said the organization takes its mission one school at a time with each on a three-to-five-year timeline.

“We immerse and saturate that campus with our programming,” Hopkins said. “So, we can better demonstrate impact and causation of all work on teacher retention and recruitment and student outcomes.”

MDTP recently took on a second school with help from a grant, but Hopkins knows MDTP cannot act alone.

“If we knew how close to burnout some of these teachers are, how frustrated they may be at times, we would certainly be called to act,” Hopkins said.

Teacher retention remains central to Arizona’s education woes, and several small and large-scale outfits continue to take shape to address the key causes. But despite overlap in policy goals, each effort has yet to convene in a unified front to tackle the state’s ongoing educator shortage.

Both the Governor’s Office and the Arizona Department of Education convened competing task forces and plan to outline policy goals for the next session, while educator advocacy groups and unions continue to push for long-term solutions.

Marisol Garcia, president of the Arizona Education Association, said the key causes of poor teacher retention continue to be low salaries, lackluster benefits, poor working conditions and general “disrespect” toward the profession.

Garcia said attempts to remedy the blanket teacher retention challenge have been more successful than in the past, but she noted a continued absence of voices from educators and school employees across the board.

“In the past there have been all kinds of efforts that have never included actual classroom educators, actual bus drivers, actual security folks and cafeteria staff,” Garcia said.

Garcia said proposed solutions often come from the “500-foot level or the 50-foot level,” meaning at the district level, or at the state lawmaking level.

“But there is rarely an abundance of voices from people who are being impacted by these policies,” Garcia said.

Garcia said this has shifted slightly in recent months, citing Gov. Katie Hobbs’ Educator Retention and Recruitment Task Force convened at the start of the year via executive order.

The taskforce consists of 19 people, including educators and administrators from tribal communities, rural schools and urban schools, as well as educators from a Title I school, a charter school and a special education program, and an educator who recently left the profession.

Alongside educators are education support and human resources professionals, a mental health professional, a school board member, a parent of a public-school child, an education retention expert, a representative from a nonprofit organization focused on policy and representatives from universities and community colleges.

Garcia and Hopkins both serve on the task force. Garcia said they have been meeting twice every month in working groups and are currently awaiting survey results on key causes, which they intend to turn into policy recommendations by the end of the year.

Tom Horne

Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne convened his own teacher retention task force in ADE, though he noted the task force is in nascent stages.

The group consists of eight ADE representatives, 11 administrators and 13 teachers from suburban, urban and rural districts, along with three representatives from higher education and three representatives from WestEd, an education research agency.

Horne said his focus is on increasing teacher salaries, bolstering administrative support in disciplinary actions and emphasizing high achievement in academics.

“No school can be better than the quality of the teachers in the school,” he said. “So, attracting and retaining highly qualified teachers is among our top priorities.”

Horne said he had heard of a lack of administrative support for teachers in disciplinary actions taken against students. And he noted teachers in schools underperforming academically contribute to retention woes.

“When academic progress isn’t sufficient, the teachers don’t have that same feeling of satisfaction,” Horne said.

He said he was “shocked,” at the failure of a bill sponsored by Rep. Matt Gress, R-Phoenix, this session that would have granted teachers a $10,000 raise. Horne speculated that it saw opposition from AEA and Democrats in the Legislature because the legislation came from a Republican.

“The importance of raising teacher salaries should be bipartisan,” Horne said.

But Garcia said AEA opposed the legislation because the funding for salary increases was not guaranteed in the long term, and the bill failed to include other essential school staff.

She said she wants to see the state move toward long-term solutions to address teacher retention.

“The problem with short-term solutions is that this is not a short-term problem,” Garcia said.