Committee turns focus to making teaching easier

Quincy Public Schools Special Education Director Eryn Beswick, standing, discusses workload for special educators during a Human Resources Committee meeting Wednesday. | H-W Photo/Deborah Gertz Husar
By Herald-Whig
Posted: Nov. 7, 2018 9:00 pm Updated: Nov. 7, 2018 9:15 pm

QUINCY -- Quincy Public Schools wants to turn to one of its most important resources -- its retired teachers -- to develop ways to improve the district.

A plan, outlined Wednesday by the Human Resources Committee, calls for asking retirees to interview current certified staff members and paraprofessionals, both new and experienced, with a focus on discovering ways to help with absences, improve morale and make the practice of teaching easier.

All suggestions will be reviewed with the best implemented and the outcomes monitored with hopes of boosting staff retention in a working climate that features new curriculum, new students and families, new colleagues, new supervisors and a new mix of students, especially in the K-5 learning communities.

The process hopes to emphasize to staff that "we care about them, we're trying to really take a broad look at what's going on with them in this district, and we want to work on it. We're trying to make progress here," School Board and committee member Jim Whitfield said.

Committee member and Teacher Mentor Project Coordinator Marilyn Smith and Personnel Director Lisa Otten will work on developing the process between now and the committee's next meeting in January.

Input from staff will remain anonymous, and gathering information could take several months.

"You need to develop that trust, that relationship, really hear what everyone has to say," Whitfield said.

One goal will be working toward boosting staff retention by asking staff where they want to be in this district in the next five or 10 years and what can be done to improve the teaching experience.

The district hired about 140 new employees for this school year, and "I'm not saying it's good or bad, but 140 people leaving, something's going on," Whitfield said. "We need to get to the bottom of why we're losing 140 people so that 140 doesn't go out the door next year, or you have 200 positions that you're filling next year."

Exit interviews show the majority of staff leaving "have not left QPS because of QPS," Otten said.

Some are leaving Illinois, some are leaving for family reasons, and some are leaving the teaching profession. "It's not just a QPS thing," Smith said. "It's an education thing. It's a millennial thing."

In other action, the Human Relations Committee:

Learned a new "career information" link is available on the school district's homepage. The revamped website provides a wealth of information for people interested in working for the district.

Agreed to continue discussing workload concerns raised by special education staff members and focused not on just numbers of students but the requirements for each of those students.

"The teachers were not asking for additional money. What they're asking for was additional time to do what's required of them," Director of Student Services Carol Frericks said.

Learned that one third of the staff had perfect attendance during the first quarter. "A lot of times we're talking about those who miss 10 or more days, but one third of the staff shows up every day," Otten said.

Heard an update on the district's successful before and after school child care program in the K-5 learning communities. Program coordinator Stephanie Dickens already is hearing from parents hoping to enroll their children in the program in the 2019-20 school year.