Olivia McKinzie, a junior at Mountain Vista High School, said teachers have changed her life. Her principal, Michael Weaver, greets students by first names in the hallways. Her social studies teacher connects with students and resembles a relative.
So, for a class project, McKinzie chose to investigate why teachers are leaving Douglas County School District.
“If it does become a problem at Vista," McKinzie said, "that would be heartbreaking to me and my peers because we have so many great teachers here.”
But although turnover isn't an issue at Mountain Vista, McKinzie and her classmates, Bella Workman and Ashley Brown, found widespread dissatisfaction with existing compensation and reforms and low morale among the 214 district respondents to the survey they conducted. And three-quarters had considered leaving the district.
“The results we got are not representative of all teachers,” McKinzie said, “but it's enough to cause concern.”
The project started in mid-April with a service project assignment in McKinzie's English III class. She was put in a three-person group and asked to study an important issue in the community, state or world.
Classmates were told to contact nonprofit organizations. But McKinzie, Workman and Brown decided to work with the teachers' union and the district. Their decision followed the protest on March 9 at Ponderosa High School when students organized a walkout to shine attention on the high teacher turnover rate, which the state education department has reported at19.7 percent in 2015-16.
“When we found out about Ponderosa, we thought it was the perfect thing to work with,” McKinzie said.
McKinzie and her team first made a practice survey with categories of multiple choice, check-all-that-apply and select-other questions. Content and questions were based on feedback from a test group of Mountain Vista teachers.
Jessica Wheeler, who teaches English III, supported the project.
“Olivia and her group have very positive intentions with this project and just want what is best for all in Douglas County Schools,” she said.
The group created an online survey at www.tinyurl.com/dcsdtss, which ran from May 3 to May 15. Participants remained anonymous, but were asked for their DCSD position and length of time in that position. The survey then asked specifics on reforms, salary, compensation and teacher treatment.
A printed version was distributed at Mountain Vista High School and Mountain Ridge Middle School. The web link was posted to the “Speak for DCSD” Facebook page and shared with the teachers' union.
When the survey closed, McKinzie and her group had data from 214 respondents.
Weaver emphasized Mountain Vista's teacher turnover rate of about 5 percent is one of the district's lowest. And that the number of respondents exceeded the 125-member staff at the school, which means “many of the anonymous respondents are not Vista staff members.”
“We work with individuals everyday in terms of maintaining a positive climate and culture,” he said in an email.
Survey results showed:
• 161 respondents had considered leaving DCSD
• 145 respondents said they had not been compensated enough
• 75 percent opposed most or all DCSD reforms
• Four of five respondents felt they did not have a voice in the district
• 48 respondents were satisfied with their salaries
• 148 were dissatisfied to some degree with their salaries
Going forward, McKinzie's group wants to work with DCSD board members to reverse the issues they believe are causing teacher turnover. The survey's data is valuable in changing how teacher reforms are implemented, McKinzie said.
“We hope to see change,” she said. “No kid wants to see their favorite teacher leave and no school wants its teachers to leave, either.”