As the new school year kicks off, superintendents across the nation are evaluating resources needed for the year ahead to ensure that everyone–school leaders, teachers, students, and parents–has what they need to be successful.
During a time when many kindergarten through 12th grade education leaders are facing many challenges, including teacher shortages, declining math and reading scores, funding issues, student mental health, and more, it’s critical that superintendents maximize their resources. By doing so, they’ll be able to solve immediate challenges that may arise, giving them more time to focus on the long-term goals of their school or district.
Throughout my 30-year career, I’ve been a high school teacher, a dean of students, an assistant principal, a principal, and now a superintendent. These roles have given me an understanding of the goals and challenges faced at every level of education. They have also given me insights on how schools and districts can re-evaluate and optimize resources to generate results.
As fellow superintendents kick off the year, I offer three proven strategies to maximize resources.
1. Provide professional development opportunities to invest in your staff
While the school district I lead in Florida has less than a 7 percent turnover year over year, a recent report by the RAND Corporation showed that teacher turnover rates across the nation grew to 10 percent in the 2021-22 school year. One factor that can lead to teachers not feeling supported is not having the time or resources to invest in their professional learning and development.
As educators, it can be easy to get caught up in the day-to-day work, but the only way to grow is by strategically dedicating learning time for your teams. Ensure they have the time to discuss their goals and key performance indicators, present projects, or hear from third-party speakers to learn about the latest trends in kindergarten through 12th grade education. Teachers make the magic, which is why it’s important to ensure they have the tools and training needed to feel confident, prepared, and supported.
2. Leverage online resources to individualize student learning and mitigate learning loss
Over the past two years, the Nation’s Report Card has shown widespread declines in student achievement, with average scores declining 7 points in reading and 14 points in mathematics compared to a decade ago.
To address and mitigate these concerning scores, educators should consider personalizing learning for every student. The best way to do that is by offering an online or blended learning environment because it empowers parents and students to take control of their education journey and learn in the way that works best for them.
Rather than all students in one classroom going at the same pace and covering the same subjects, online, blended, and hybrid learning provide students with flexibility, accessibility, self-pacing, and more support. For example, if a student masters a concept and is ready to move to the next lesson, they can do so, or if a student needs more time to understand a lesson, they can take that time.
Although there are synchronous live lessons with online learning, there is more time for students to learn asynchronously, giving teachers the flexibility to provide individualized support during the day. These personalized sessions not only foster connections between teachers and students, but also offer insights into their challenges, strengths, and personal interests.
Additionally, establishing one-on-one connections with students and their families enables teachers to discern the root cause of a student’s academic setbacks.
3. Explore short-term interim support when facing teacher shortages
While it’s imperative that superintendents adjust district-wide HR practices on how to attract, recruit, and retain teacher talent to help with teacher shortages, that is a long-term solution that will take time. Therefore, it’s crucial that superintendents leverage short-term solutions in the interim.
My recommendation is to partner with an experienced virtual school to help fill vacancies that can help with hiring teachers on-demand for specific needs. Virtual teachers can be quickly onboarded to cover and support your students, covering gaps in instances such as when a teacher leaves unexpectedly or when there are recruitment challenges for specific subject areas like World Languages or Electives.
No matter where help is needed, a strong virtual partner should feel like an extension of your culture and a continuation of the incredible work that your teachers already do. You’ll set yourself up for success if you find a virtual partner that truly listens to your district’s needs and cares about individualizing learning for your students.
I hope these three strategies give some piece of mind to my fellow superintendents this school year. My priority has and always will be to do what’s best for our students, and I believe these three strategies will do just that. Wishing you a wonderful school year ahead!