Title 1 Reading Teacher Tammy Rundall works May 24 with a group of kids at Harrison Elementary School in Cedar Rapids. Fewer staff are leaving the district for the 2022-23 school year than in the previous year. There was an attrition rate of 5.6 percent during the 2021-22 school year, dropping to 1.9 percent this year. (Savannah Blake/The Gazette)
CEDAR RAPIDS — A cultural assessment of the Cedar Rapids Community School District is expected to provide “rich data” on why employees might be leaving the district, and provide better ways of finding and keeping workers, according to executive director of talent management Linda Noggle.
The district is working with Top RANK, a Cedar Rapids-based employment search service that helps identify diversity, equity and inclusion solutions.
As schools across the nation face a shortage of educators and staff, Cedar Rapids schools are doing a “deep dive” in to why people are leaving the profession and how to better to recruit and retain workers, Noggle said.
During a school board meeting Monday, Noggle presented the top reasons staff are leaving the district, including looking for a career change and opportunity at another school district.
Board member Nancy Humbles questioned why staff are being attracted to other school districts. Noggle said her team is working this year to gather that data by having conversations with former employees. Previously, the district relied on exit interviews, which Noggle said didn’t provide good information about why employees left.
The attrition rate, however, is improving since the start of the pandemic, Noggle said, with fewer staff leaving the district for the 2022-23 school year than in the previous year. There was an attrition rate of 5.6 percent during the 2021-22 school year, dropping to 1.9 percent this year.
The district has a total of 2,666 employees, 47 percent of which are teachers and 17 percent paraeducators. Ninety percent of the staff are white and 74 percent are female.
“We recognize this is an area of opportunity for us and an area of growth,” Noggle said. “How do we increase the number of non-white employees we have in our district and ensure we have people who look like our students?”
Although the district has “a long way to go,” Noggle said the number of non-white employees has grown by 4 percent since 2018. The Cedar Rapids district’s 16,700-student body is almost 30 percent students of color.
Before the pandemic, the district was hiring more staff than it was losing, data shows. However, the district lost 532 employees during the 2020-21 school year and hired 269 — a strategic decision with students split between in-person and online learning.
“That’s when we really started in that period of decline and having a shortage in our workforce. We haven’t fully recovered from that as of yet,” Noggle said.
While the district made up some of this loss by hiring 478 employees during the 2021-22 school year, it still saw greater attrition at 552 employees leaving that year.
The majority of prospective employees — 61 percent — come to the district through employee referrals. Other prospective employees come to the district through the district’s website. The last quarter find the district through career fairs, university postings and job posting sites.
Eriece Colbert, an equity coach for Cedar Rapids Community School District, is helping lead a new team to find staffing solutions. “We have to address our culture and be honest about what’s not working,” she said.
Some solutions the district already has implemented include increased wages and retention bonuses. Colbert said while increasing wages is important, it’s also about making employees feel appreciated. “There’s not enough of that,” she said.
Cedar Rapids schools are a part of a new Teacher and Registered Apprenticeship Pilot Program, an opportunity for paraeducators to earn their teaching degree with the support of a one-time grant award provided through the state’s allocation of the federal American Rescue Plan Act funds.
A new teacher mentoring and induction program in partnership with Grant Wood Area Education Agency also has increased retention by 34 percent. Through the program, new teachers get support that helps increase their confidence and competence in their classrooms.
Noggle said the district offers “very generous” salaries to new teachers and teachers at the end of their career. “That midcareer area is one we need to take a look at,” she said. “There are always opportunities for us to look at from a salary perspective.”
“Many educators love this work, are passionate about this work, and we have to get those stories out there,” Noggle said.
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