Milford schools

New Milford schools aren’t the only ones experiencing turnover. CT’s ‘exhausted’ educators quit their jobs

NEW MILFORD — When New Milford High School principal Raymond Manka announced his intention to step down, the district superintendent was blamed for his planned departure and that of about 10 other administrators who left the schools since she took over.

However, education officials say outside factors, largely the stressors that COVID-19 has placed on school staff, have led educators in the region and state to retire or seek other jobs, sometimes outside of education.

“We know that the past two years have been very difficult for school personnel, including superintendents and administrators, as well as teachers and others due to the COVID crisis,” said Robert Rader, executive director of Connecticut Association of Boards of Education. .

New Milford, where Manka eventually rescinded his resignation, isn’t the only school district in the area experiencing turnover. Brookfield Schools is working to fill a few administrative vacancies. The Newtown and New Fairfield superintendents plan to retire at the end of the school year, while the Area 12 school principal also plans to step down due to his family moving to Arizona.

Other local school districts faced these challenges last year. Danbury’s superintendent retired at the end of last June and the school’s finance staff left, impacting the town and school audit this year.

During the past summer, the school districts of Easton, Redding and Region 9 had to fill 24 vacancies, including its superintendent, four principals and director of finance and operations.

COVID-factors

School districts have long faced turnover, but COVID has heightened those challenges, said Glenn Lungarini, executive director of the Connecticut Association of Schools. There’s more pressure on educators to make sure students do well academically and mentally, he said.

“It certainly has a lot to do with the stress of what the education profession is going through today,” he said. “And I think part of that has to do with resources and interactions with the school community, so there are a number of factors that come into play.”

New Milford Superintendent Alisha DiCorpo said the pandemic has led people across the country to quit their jobs because they want a better work-life balance, reduce commuting or work from home. In some cases, educators may have pursued new positions available through federal COVID-19 assistance school districts have received, she said.

“The field of education in particular has been hit hard, due to the pandemic,” she said in an email.

Fairfield’s new superintendent Pat Cosentino said the challenges posed by COVID factored into her decision to retire after 38 years of study.

“When you get to a certain age and you can retire and you’re burnt out like me, like all of my colleagues, you think twice about it,” she said. “I think the pandemic has really given people another reason to seriously think about retiring or changing careers or jobs.”

Navigating full remote learning in the spring of 2020 and then hybrid mode the following year has made it difficult for educators, Cosentino said. Then, districts held mask debates this school year.

“Everything is a problem,” she said. “It drains you of your energy, so teachers, administrators are just exhausted.”

The district has a “good amount” of staff retiring, but there haven’t been many trustees leaving, she said.

With more educators looking for a change, New Fairfield has seen more applicants for certain jobs, Cosentino said. For example, the district received three applicants in one day for a high school physics teacher, a typically difficult position to hire, she said.

“It just shows you that people are watching and thinking and putting their toes in the water to see what’s going on,” she said.

Other factors

Jason McKinnon, superintendent in Easton, Redding and Region 9, said COVID has had minimal effect on staff leaving the district.

“People reaching retirement age were the biggest factor,” he said in an email.

He added that personnel issues drive change, but superintendents cannot disclose why those people are leaving.

Bethel schools have seen little administrative turnover in recent years, although the district’s chief financial officer is retiring at the end of the school year, Superintendent Christine Carver said. However, staff and teachers usually leave because they are relocating or looking for higher pay or a higher position, she said.

Ridgefield Superintendent Susie Da Silva noted that school districts faced challenges like this before COVID. Retirements and resignations come and go depending on factors such as compensation and retirement incentives, she said.

When she became superintendent in January 2020, she had to fill three main vacancies due to retirements.

“For many superintendents, I think the reality is that you’re entering a community that already sees retirements and resignations on the table,” she said.

Prior to Da Silva, Ridgefield underwent seven managerial changes in four years. Changes in leadership sometimes reverberate.

“Coherence for faculty questions,” Da Silva said. “Knowing someone is going to be here for a while makes a difference for them.”

Prior to DiCorpo, New Milford had four permanent and acting superintendents since 2016.

Officials said that sometimes educators leave for higher-paying positions, though Lungarini said he doesn’t hear as much about it from principals and vice-principals.

“At this level and with most of the teachers I’ve spoken to, there’s a real passion for working with kids and doing what’s right for kids,” he said.

Recruitment and retention

Resignations and retirements mean districts need to focus on recruiting and retaining staff.

Districts are trying to recruit teachers of color, which should lead to more administrators of color, Rader said.

He noted that the state has facilitated the work of certified educators in other states in Connecticut. A new agreement affecting educators in 11 neighboring states, DC and Puerto Rico went into effect in April.

“It will also help because certification issues for out-of-state applicants have long been an issue in the state,” Rader said.

New Fairfield hired from within to fill the vacant position, Cosentino. A primary school principal was promoted to serve as outgoing middle school principal. Cosentino plans to hire an in-house principal who will oversee the two elementary schools.

“You spend a lot of time, energy and resources training your staff, making sure they support the district’s vision and mission, and if they’re good enough, and our people are, and ready. for the next step, I like to hire internally,” she said.

School districts that foster the growth of their staff and build positive connections with families are often more successful in retaining them, Lungarini said.

“When we focus on building strong relationships between our professional staff, our students and the broader school community, that’s where we tend to find where individuals are motivated and more engaged and we have deeper levels of learning throughout the education system,” he said.

Supporting the mental health of educators can also help retain staff, Rader said.

“I know that council members are concerned about the difficult emotional and mental issues that exist in society, particularly since COVID, and have ensured that their mental health programs are available for those in need, at both staff and students,” he said.

Even without COVID, school districts would have faced these challenges, Rader said. Demographic changes mean there are fewer young people, and overall the state is losing population.

“Over the long term, boards will continue to have to deal with these issues,” Rader said. “We have all heard how difficult it is to become a teacher, how difficult the job is and when there are opportunities in the private sector, our students, and even our candidates, may not want to work in the schools. It is a difficult profession. »

Sandra Diamond Fox contributed to this report.


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