Whitehall schools battle to retain teachers

By EJ Conzola II

With the start of the school year looming, the Whitehall Board of Education found itself faced with a problem that has become all too common for district officials – the resignations of several teachers.

The school board voted Monday, Aug. 21 – less than three weeks before students return to classes –  to accept “with regret” the resignations of two elementary school teachers, a school nurse and a guidance counselor. The resignations were the latest in a string of teachers stepping down, noted board member Frank Barber.

Barber last month had expressed concerns about the number of teachers who had left the district and asked superintendent Patrick Dee to make sure he conducted exit interviews to find out why teachers were leaving. At the board’s August meeting, Barber proposed the creation of a board committee to look for ways to boost teacher retention.

Dee told the board he has had conversations with teachers who are stepping down and said the most common reason given was a desire to work closer to their homes.

“The majority of the individuals that we have lost are due to location,” Dee said. “By and large, that’s been our issue.”

Many of those who have resigned are younger teachers who took a job in Whitehall to begin their teaching careers, Dee said in an interview after the meeting. The departing teachers often live in the “population centers” around Glens Falls and Saratoga Springs, and once they have a few years of experience – which makes them more attractive to other districts – they jump at the opportunity to move closure to those areas, he said.

The situation is not unique to Whitehall, Dee said. Retaining teachers is “a nightmare for the outlying districts,” he said, saying neighboring school districts such as Granville and Hartford are facing similar problems.

Even those districts that serve the population centers are not immune, Dee said. Schools across the country are scrambling to find people to fill classroom vacancies because of a nationwide teacher shortage, he said.

“They’re in the same predicament,” he said.

New York schools are in an even more difficult position because of the requirements the state imposes on aspiring teachers, Dee said. Not only are its demands for education and training more stringent than those in other states, New York does not grant “reciprocity” to teachers certified elsewhere, so even experienced teachers from another state avoid coming to New York because they would have to go through additional training before being allowed in a classroom, he said.

“Staffing is an issue,” Dee said. “It’s been an issue for several years.”

Despite the recent spate of resignations and the overall difficulty in finding teachers, Dee said his district is in good shape entering the 2023-24 school year. One of the resignations accepted Aug. 21 was filled that same night, and the district currently has only one teaching vacancy – which he said he expects to fill via interviews before the academic year begins.

And school board members said the newly created committee will work to make sure the district can find – and retain – a solid teaching staff.

“If there’s anything we could do to accommodate these folks, I think it would behoove us to take that stand,” said board member Jared Mowatt.