CASTLE ROCK - Over the past few years, the Douglas County School district has gone through several major changes. A conservative school board was elected. The teachers' union collective bargaining agreement was disbanded. And, district leaders are pushing the idea of private school vouchers. Now, hundreds of teachers are expected to leave.
"There's just a lot of unhappy teachers here that don't believe that the district is heading in a positive direction," said Brian White, a social studies teacher at ThunderRidge High School in Highlands Ranch.
White will be leaving the Douglas County School District at the end of the year to take a job in Littleton.
"The teachers that I know are looking to leave the district and go to other districts where they feel like their work is valued by the people that they work for, the district administration," said White.
Douglas County School Superintendent Dr. Liz Fagen says she expects more than 300 teachers to leave the district. But, she says, in a district of more than 3,400 teachers, that is normal.
"Historically, we generally turnover about 10 percent. People retire. They move," said Fagen. "There's a lot of different reasons that people move around."
Fagen says last year, the district hired 417 new teachers. She says one reason people are leaving is the phasing out of the extended service severance program which pays money to retirees. Last year, the district did see an increase in turnover of about 25 percent.
Fagen says the direction of the district may be a factor, as well.
"So, there's no question that some people may decide that, the new sort of 21st Century learning environment is not for them and so they would make decisions to go elsewhere," said Fagen.
Fagen adds that Douglas County is continuing to grow. So, she anticipates that the district will have even more teaching positions open for next year after people leave.
"Every single year, we hire hundreds of teachers. We're a growing school district," said Fagen. "It's a great thing that we are looking for more teachers. It's also an indicator of the fact that we have put more dollars back in our classrooms this year."
In fact, if you compare Douglas County to other school districts it sits right in the middle. Another growing school district, Denver, expects to have 500 teaching positions open next year. So, does the Cherry Creek School District. Jefferson County is looking at 190 open teaching positions. Boulder Valley has about 120 positions. The Adams 12 Five Star School District and Aurora Public Schools each have around 60-plus teaching positions open for next year.
Regardless of the numbers, White says the teachers that he sees leaving are experienced ones who are a valuable resource to the district.
"These experienced teachers, they're the experts," said White. "You have new teachers that aren't getting the advice of more experienced teachers to kind of help them along and figure out how to teach."
White says he and other teachers feel they are being pushed out by administrators because they do not agree with the district reforms.
"Even if I hadn't found another job at another school district, I would at this point be resigning my position in the Douglas County School District and possibly leaving teaching altogether," said White.
Fagen says there is no effort to push any teachers out.
"I haven't had a single teacher tell me that they feel that they are being pushed out because they are a naysayer," said Fagen. "It's just not true."
Fagen points out in a recent survey commissioned by the Colorado Department of Education called Tell Colorado that 87 percent of Douglas County teachers surveyed believe they are "effective school leaders" which is above the state average.
White points to a different part of the same survey which shows that 22 percent of Douglas County teachers are looking to leave the district, which is about double the state average of teachers answering the same question in other districts.
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