A new initiative looks to Lawrence Township teachers to improve teacher retention

February 26, 2024 | From IndyStar https://www.indystar.com/story/news/education/2024/02/26/lawrence-township-teachers-pilot-initiative-to-improve-teacher-retention/72704477007/

A new initiative aims to find ways to attract and retain teachers in Indianapolis, asking educators to help develop solutions to turnover in the classroom.

Indianapolis-based nonprofit Teach Indy is teaming up with a cohort of about 25 teachers and school administrators from Lawrence Township schools to create pilot programs in their schools to address teacher retention and satisfaction.

Teachers’ input is often left out of the conversation when such policies or programs are created, said Sara Marshall, Teach Indy executive director.

“We heard loud and clear from them that there lots of reasons why folks are either not entering the profession or are leaving the profession but very few people are going straight to them to ask them what those reasons are,” Marshall told IndyStar.

Called Reimagining the Teacher Role Cohort, the initiative is already underway with teams of teachers from Lawrence Central High School, Lawrence North High School, Belzer Middle School, and Fall Creek Valley Middle School.

Over the next year, the cohort will work with Teach Indy on identifying the main issues impacting teacher retention and brainstorming solutions. Teach Indy experts in design-thinking, or tackling problems with human needs at the center, will work with the cohort.

Their proposals will be piloted at each school next fall with the goal of moving district-wide in the second semester.

Tentative ideas that have been tried in other districts include a four-day work week for teachers and leveraging community partnerships to free up teachers on certain days of the week, Marshall said.

Teach Indy chose Lawrence Township for this first cohort because the district was working on a similar idea and had a high teacher retention rate.

Overall, Marion County had a teacher retention rate of 68.5% last year while Lawrence Township had an overall rate of 76.4%, according to state data analyzed by the Richard M. Fairbanks community data snapshot.

School districts are already trying out a lot of different ways to retain teachers, said Andy Harsha, director of secondary education at Lawrence Township.

“But this is going to push our teachers to think outside of some of those traditional responses, and to really think outside of the box and be innovative,” Harsha told IndyStar.

Most of the work for this initiative will take place during regular working hours. Any additional time will receive additional pay.

Cohort members are currently conducting interviews with teachers from different fields and backgrounds as their first phase of the project.

“We’re making sure we get educators of different races from different places,” said Rachel Anderson, a cohort member and Lawrence Central High School math teacher. “And kind of just hearing from them like, what makes them tired. What gives them energy, what are they doing?”

The goal is to eventually have cohorts across Marion County public schools so that teachers can start building off each other’s ideas, Marshall said.

“The goal is to not to keep this to ourselves, but instead to really figure out how do you test what works? How do you gather the data to verify that it’s working? And then how do you share it so that we become a hub of innovation across Marion County,” Marshall said.

Contact IndyStar reporter Caroline Beck at 317-618-5807 or CBeck@gannett.com. Follow her on Twitter: @CarolineB_Indy. Caroline’s reporting is made possible by Report for America and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation