The Jefferson City School District seems to be supporting its teachers, school board candidates said, but more can be done.
Candidates for the Jefferson City School District Board of Education shared their thoughts on how the district is supporting teachers, how it could do more and what practices could best retain teachers.
Five candidates are running for three open positions on the school board in the April 4 election. Three are newcomers: Mike Harvey, Suzanne Luther and Tapiwa "Felix" Madondo; and two are incumbents: Brad Bates and Scott Hovis.
Current structures supporting teachers
Candidates were asked to share whether they believe the Jefferson City School District adequately supports its teachers.
Harvey said he couldn't speak as specifically about what the district is doing to support teachers as a current board member, but said the district could always use better support in equipment, technology and classroom supplies.
Luther said the conversations she's had with teachers suggest the district does adequately support teachers and that the current administration seems to understand the importance of supporting teachers.
Madondo said the district does its best to support teachers, but it could do more.
Hovis said he believes the district supports its teachers.
"I'm always open to listening to our teachers to hear their feedback, hearing what they have to say, because obviously they're the boots on the ground in the classroom and we're not, every day," he said.
"The district is definitely doing a better job today than they were yesterday, but we still have opportunities to improve," Bates said. "The bottom line is that teachers are the lifeblood of our schools, and without supported and engaged teachers, the wheels come off the bus pretty quickly."
Additional mental or emotional supports
Candidates were asked to share what additional things the district should do to support teachers mentally and emotionally. Bates and Hovis both pointed to childcare offered within the district as a model for new ideas.
Hovis said the district's new childcare program for employees, which saves them money, is one way the district supports its teachers.
"That's one thing that we need to continue: to come up with ideas like that, think outside the box to help our teachers," he said.
Hovis said the district should also look at different ways to give teachers mental breaks.
"We need to figure a way to be able to raise salaries and give them better, higher salary ranges for what they do," he said.
If the bond issue were to pass, he said, paying off some items under that could free up money to go toward teacher pay.
Bates said the district recently implemented Career Ladder, a program that provides compensation for extra duties that teachers perform, such as sponsoring a club or tutoring. He also highlighted the district's new childcare program for district employees, which he said will help keep teachers in the district.
"We must continue to remove requirements off teachers' plates and let them do what they're best at, and that's teach," he said.
Others saw behavioral support in the classroom as a way to help teachers.
"Discipline in the classroom, obviously, is a big plus," Harvey said.
"Teachers need as much support from the administration as possible for their own well-being, and that also has to do with self-esteem in the classroom," Harvey added. "The better we can support them in the classroom, the more apt they are to have a good attitude about what they're doing, and hopefully, because of that good attitude, stay in place a lot longer than a lot of teachers do.
"Students put a lot of work into becoming teachers only to not stay in the profession as long as they could, and I think a lot of that has to do with self-esteem in the classroom."
Madondo said many teachers right now deal with behavioral issues which can leave them feeling drained at the end of the day. He said one solution could be hiring assistants to the teacher in those classrooms.
Madondo also said the district should guarantee teachers' planning times.
Many of those strategies require money, he said, "but we need to come up with something to help teachers."
Luther, herself a former teacher, saw the erosion of trust in teachers as a major challenge.
Though she hasn't taught in the last five years, Luther said observation shows that it is hard to be a teacher right now.
"This seems to be, across the board nationally, the toughest time for teachers -- I'm going to go ahead and confidently say -- ever," she said. "It's crucial to get teacher input, and everybody knows that financial support is mandatory."
Resources are also important, Luther said, along with trust. She said political agendas and manufactured issues can erode the trust in teachers.
"I think it's extremely challenging to retain good teachers when they're out there doing their best to ensure that their students get the best education, and they're providing for their well-being and then they're having to tackle some of these issues now that weren't there before," she said.
How to retain teachers
Candidates were asked how the district could retain quality teachers.
Money was a factor for many of the candidates.
Luther said the key ingredients to retaining teachers are finances, resources and trust. Teachers need good professional development, good pay and mental health support.
Hovis said the best way to retain teachers is to give them the resources they need and the money they need, while also holding people accountable.
Hovis said he knows the struggles of teachers being the son of two teachers, as well as his wife's parents being teachers.
"There's a lot of kids who utilize our teachers as moms and dads and get that support that they might not get at home, and so I can't emphasize (enough) how much I care about and am thankful for our educators," Hovis said.
Madondo said incentives such as pay and guaranteed plan time are great ways to retain teachers. He said the school should also provide mental health support.
He also said having a teacher fund to allow teachers to purchase supplies and other items for their classrooms could help teachers. He also suggested the district could team up with the YMCA or any other fitness program to give teachers opportunities to improve their mental and physical health.
Additionally, any training teachers undergo should relate to their position or subject area.
"If the school district's going to provide training or recommend training, we want to make sure that whatever training that is, is relevant," Madondo said.
To retain teachers, Harvey said, the district should ensure they have a living income, are supported in the classroom, and that they want to come to work each day.
Harvey said he hopes teachers can approach the administration to voice any concerns or suggestions.
"I'm all for improvements, all the time. This world's changing faster than we can keep up with sometimes," he said.
Bates said retaining teachers comes down to respect, appreciation and backing teachers.
"In any work environment, people come to you with suggestions or issues that they're having or ways to make their work more effective," Bates said. "We have to be there to lend a listening ear and implement things that make it more effective for our teachers."
CORRECTION: This article was edited at 5:15 a.m. Feb. 27, 2023, to indicate Scott Hovis' wife's parents became teachers, not his wife.