It's no secret that Hartford schools are suffering from a brain drain. Every year we watch as some of our best and brightest teachers leave for better jobs ... often heading East.
I put the question to Superintendent Tom DeBalsi a while back, and he had a ready answer: Money.
Hartford is a blue-collar town. With surrounding school districts able to pay considerably higher salaries (up to 15% more or higher) a town like Hartford just can't compete.
There it is--cut and dried.
Or is it?
Of all the teachers I spoke to, and I spoke with several who recently left Hartford for surrounding districts, not one cited increased pay as their reason for leaving. In fact, according to them, pay wasn't a factor at all.
There were, however, two factors almost everyone did mention: Lack of support and lack of respect.
Let's break this down. What do teachers mean when they say support? It depends.
On one hand, it means having enough people to do the job: trained, dedicated tech crews; classroom aides and para-educators.
The picture they painted for me was of a school system where teaching staff don't feel valued and are pulled in too many directions to do their best work. As one teacher put it, "We were being asked to do more-and-more with less-and-less." No teacher, no matter how talented or qualified, can do a good job if they are stretched too thin.
I saw this time and again during the three years I taught in Chicago. The Chicago Public School leadership under Arne Duncan invariably chose to spend their money on fancy training, expensive "kit" programs and the latest technology, while ignoring the fundamentals. It’s an issue of misspent money originating from misdirected priorities. All the training in the world can't replace a second set of eyes in a classroom of 32 active fourth graders. Trust me. I found out the hard way.
This post ended up much longer than I expected, so I've split it into two parts.
Read part two here:
Hartford's Brain Drain: Part 2
A quick note about my background in education:
I'm a teacher, certified in both elementary and art education. I grew up in Quechee and graduated from Hartford High in '93. I did my student teaching at the Dothan Brook School and racked up a fair amount of time as a substitute teacher at DBS, OQS and HMMS. After graduating from the Upper Valley Educators Institute, I spent three years in Chicago teaching fourth-grade students from the inner city. Now I teach at the Richmond Middle School in Hanover.