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New London - A report presented Thursday night to the Board of Education to address issues of teacher and leader quality, diversity among school faculty, and employee retention raised more questions than it answered, board members said, including just how many teachers have left the district this year.
Michael Fletcher, the district's talent recruitment specialist, said that since he arrived in the district on June 11, 23 teachers have left the district.
Board Chairwoman Margaret Mary Curtin and other board members, however, said they thought the number of teachers who left the district was closer to 40.
Fletcher said he called all 23 teachers, and 10 agreed to participate in the newly implemented exit interview process. He and Cherese Chery, the district's chief talent/human resources officer, presented to the board the results of those exit interviews.
"We had nine people out of the 10 who talked about relationships with their principal. ... Eight people talked about professional development, seven people talked about work environment, five people talked about adequate staffing, five people talked about (the) evaluation process," Chery said. "And surprisingly, three people talked about low salary. We thought we would hear more."
But members of the board voiced their dissatisfaction with the vague responses provided in the report.
"I don't really find any information from your report here," board member Jason Catala said. "Number one, I thought there were a lot more people who left the district, so I don't understand the low amount of exit interviews that came back."
Chery said that over the last three years, 63 teachers have left New London.
"Two years ago, we had 25 people leave the district. Then, last year, we had 20, this year we have 18 people leaving the district," she said. "So we reached out to anyone who left the district from June, who would have been from last year, and we interviewed those people who were available."
Chery said they did not reach out to teachers who left the district prior to Fletcher arriving on June 11.
"We have been requesting this information for a long time; there is really no excuse that we do not have a full report this evening," Catala said. "I am not proud of this exit interview process."
Fletcher did provide a sample of responses that he got from the exit interviews.
"People may feel insecure about their job, job placement, job security. They don't feel they ... have support for the student behavior management process, there is a lot of changing initiative, there is a lack of recognition amongst the staff, and there is a lack of communication," Fletcher said.
Curtin said she did not believe that none of the 10 respondents mentioned the superintendent or the central office as part of their reason for leaving the school system.
"When the first question you asked was, 'Why are you leaving the district?' I cannot believe that nothing was mentioned about central office or the superintendent," said Curtin, who is a vocal critic of Superintendent Nicholas A. Fischer. "I cannot believe that."
Curtin said that some of the 10 teachers interviewed have called her and told her how they responded to the exit interview questions.
"It seems to me that a lot of the details weren't in the report," Curtin said. "We don't have answers, we just have numbers."
Richard Baez, president of the New London Education Association, said that the number of teachers Chery and Fletcher said have left the district does not jibe with the numbers he has.
"I don't know where they got their numbers," he said after the meeting. "There was no information in that report that was useful."
Baez said he gave Chery a file of about 35 former teachers who he wanted the administration to conduct exit interviews with. During the meeting, Baez read from an email he received from a recently departed teacher who wanted to know why she hadn't been contacted to participate in an exit interview.
Curtin said that, though the board did not receive the information it was hoping for, the exit interview process can be improved so that more useful data emerge from future interviews.
"I see it improving as we go ahead, and I think we can tweak it so the board will know what it can do," she said.