Problems spur exodus from school district

Published 12:00 am Thursday, July 5, 2001

Teachers say discipline problems, inconsistency and an overload of paperwork are leading many of them to leave the Natchez-Adams School District.

Gaynell Whitney, a teacher at Adams County Christian School, taught for 28 years in public education finising her career at McLaurin Elementary School last year.

Whitney said she had wanted to teach for 30 years &uot;but it got so bad that I said it just wasn’t worth it.&uot;

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During the 1999-2000 school year, 54 certified employees left the Natchez-Adams School District. Through a combination of retirements and resignations. During the 2000-01 school year, 59 certified employees left the district.

&uot;I think that any superintendent would be crazy to not be concerned about losing staff because you can not replace them. … I also know teachers leave for various reasons,&uot; said Natchez-Adams Superintendent Dr. Carl Davis.

But at the same time, Davis said when he talks to other superintendents he hears of similar problems.

With teacher shortages nationwide, teachers now know they can go ahead and quit their job and get a job practically anywhere they go.

In prior years, teachers did not want to leave their jobs because they did not want to be last hired somewhere else, Davis said. Now that is no longer the case.

These are issues the Natchez-Adams School District faces yearly when it comes to recruiting and maintaining teachers.

&uot;I think we made every effort (and) will continue to make every effort to make the environment as conducive to learning as we can,&uot; Davis said.

But many teachers like Whitney say the volume of paperwork, lack of parental support, administration problems and inconsistency with discipline just became too much.

&uot;I just believe in being consistent with all the children,&uot; Whitney said. &uot;It got to where if a parent came to the central office fussing they got their way.&uot;

She also questions whether new measures such as the district written exits skills tests – a recent test designed to assess student performance – are really meeting their objective while adding hours of paperwork on the teachers.

&uot;They’re losing good teachers is what’s happening, and I hate to see that for the system,&uot; Whitney said. &uot;It was very demanding. You didn’t feel like you had any time for yourself at home.&uot;

As to where teachers are going, of the 59 that left the Natchez-Adams School District this year 26 were through retirements and 33 were through resignations.

Davis estimates that about 260 to 270 teachers teach the district’s about 5,100 students. This does not include administrators and other certified staff which totals 385.

In comparison, Brookhaven Public Schools had three teachers retire and five resign this year in its district of about 225 certified teachers and 3,200 students, said Martha Haley, secretary to the superintendent for the Brookhaven Public School District.

The Vicksburg-Warren School District has about 600 total in all certified staff and about 9,000 students.

It lost about 50 of those people this year between resignations and retirements, said Susan Ivins, personnel employee with the Vicksburg-Warren School District.

Lona Thomas, superintendent of the Franklin County School District, admitted that some of the Natchez-Adams County teachers end up in her district.

This year, Franklin County hired four teachers from Natchez even though the pay is slightly less, Thomas said.

&uot;This is nothing new,&uot; Thomas said. &uot;It’s not unusual for them to call over and ask, but I guess this is the largest number of teachers we’ve ever hired from Natchez-Adams County.&uot;

Thomas said her district usually loses teachers through retirement having lost four teachers to retirement this year with only one resignation.

The Franklin County School District has about 1,680 students and about 127 teachers, including librarians and other staff.

Dana Dent, is one teacher who taught in the Natchez-Adams School District for six years before leaving Morgantown&160;Elementary School last year to teach in Franklin County.

&uot;I am very happy over there. I enjoy teaching again and I love to teach,&uot; she said. &uot;I am very, very happy and excited to go to work again.&uot;

Superintendent John Dickey, of the Jefferson County School District, said he does not usually hire any teachers from Natchez because most of his teachers stay local. Being declared a critical teacher-shortage area also helps in recruiting, he said.

One band director left Jefferson County this year and 14 teachers retired but &uot;anytime we get about 10 that’s large for us,&uot; Dickey said.

About 125 teachers work in Jefferson County and about 1,700 students attend school in that district.

Lynda Cantu, secretary to the superintendent and personnel coordinator, in the Concordia Parish School District, was not certain of exact figures Tuesday but said that each year her district picks up some Mississippi teachers who have retired and want to keep working. The reverse also happens with Louisiana teachers retiring and going to work in Mississippi, she said.

Another former teacher of the Natchez-Adams School District, who did not want to be named, said she retired earlier than she would have liked because of the problems.

&uot;I didn’t want to leave. I enjoyed teaching,&uot; said the teacher, who remembers when the district was one of the top three in the state. &uot;Everybody used to want to come to Natchez. Now no one wants to come to Natchez. I think the public needs to be aware of what’s going on.&uot;

Davis said he understood changes, such as a new discipline plan started this year, might have caused recent concerns among the staff.

&uot;Anytime you start a new program, it’s going to create some concern (or) anxiety on the part of some people,&uot; he said.

But Davis says the district is trying to work out the inconsistency in the plan and to teach the students the right way to behave in society as opposed to always suspending them from school.

&uot;Instead of just whipping out a discipline form and saying you’re gone, (teachers are) going to have to do more,&uot; he said.