DODGEVILLE, Wis. - The Dodgeville School District saw a high level of teacher turnover this summer, with nearly 30 teachers leaving the rural district.
District Administrator Jeffrey Jacobson said 28 teachers left the district, which comprises two elementary schools, a middle school and a high school, this summer. He said the district has hired 28 new teachers to replace them.
"In a small town, that's a lot, that's a lot of turnover," Jacobson said. "I don't want to pretend the number that we have this year doesn't draw special attention."
One parent said learning that so many teachers left the district worries her.
"It's really concerning, I didn't know we had 28 that had left," said Tahera Stern. "To hear that many is pretty scary."
Jacobson said while each of those 28 teachers has his or her own reason for leaving, he's noticed three main trends.
The first, he said, is an environment in which teachers have the flexibility to change districts more than ever before.
"The opportunity for teachers to move is unlike any time in my 35 years in the business," Jacobson said.
Second, Jacobson said teachers are leaving rural school districts like Dodgeville in search of higher pay, which they can often find in urban or suburban districts in the Madison area.
"You fight like heck to pay as reasonably as you can," Jacobson said. "We're not a great paying district, you get west of Madison and the rules change a little bit in terms of finance."
The third, he said, are internal challenges putting stress on teachers.
"We do have some internal issues. We've had some struggles," Jacobson said. "(We have) been very aggressive about implementing initiatives that are state and national-oriented and that has caused some angst."
In addition to struggles with implementing state and national standards, Jacobson said some teachers have been struggling with initiatives to include some students with special needs in regular classrooms.
"An initiative and an effort to include kids in a regular education environment as much as we possibly can puts a stress on that," Jacobson said. "I'm not so sure, frankly, that we have supported our teachers well enough."
Jacobson said district leaders are working on ways to solve internal concerns in order to retain teachers.
"We are searching for that happy medium between how hard to push on new initiatives, how much stress can the teacher workforce handle, how much of it is truly really going to lead us to an improved educational experience for the kids and how much is too much," Jacobson said. "How much drives people out of our district?"
Jacobson said Dodgeville's issues retaining teachers aren't unique; many districts throughout rural Wisconsin are facing the same challenges.
Dodgeville School Board President Mike Humke agreed.
"We can't offer our staff the pay they deserve," Humke said. "It's hard to attract more staff into rural Wisconsin."
Jacobson said he's optimistic for the upcoming school year.
"From an educational quality standpoint, there will be some adjustment period," Jacobson said. "But I think the new voice, the new energy and all of that will add to our district."
Stern said she's hoping despite the district's challenges, the new school year will be a great one for her son.
"So far he's had a great education," Stern said. "So hopefully everything goes well for the school year."
Jacobson said he hopes Dodgeville schools won't see a similar exodus in the future.
"I'm not surprised by the number of teachers that left," he said. "You hate to lose teachers, you do, I'm not shocked, but I sure hope that we (don't) lose that same number again in the future."
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