By PRESS STAFF
When teachers come to work at Coeur d’Alene High School, statistics show they’re likely to stay.
Coeur d’Alene High School’s teacher retention rate rose to 94.3 percent last year, up from 90.1 percent the year before, according to data from the Idaho State Department of Eduation. That handily beat the state average teacher retention rate of 84.5 percent.
Retention rates held steady at Lake City High School: Management achieved a retention rate of 84.4 percent last year, roughly in line with 84.6 percent in 2017 and 87.5 percent the year before.
Coeur d’Alene Charter Academy saw its rate slip. Its retention rate was 85.7 percent last year, down from 94.1 percent in 2017 and 88.2 percent in 2016.
“Teacher retention” is defined by the Department of Education as the percentage of teachers who return to their schools from the previous school year.
Local districts recorded overall retention rates in excess of the state average. As of last year, the Coeur d'Alene School District overall retained 86.9 percent of teachers, Post Falls School District retained 86.9 percent and Lakeland Joint School District retained 86.3 percent.
"When I started teaching in 1999, the image was you come to Coeur d'Alene, you get your start and then you leave," said Tiege Arman, who has taught at CHS and Venture High School and now teaches English at Lake City.
"Now, I honestly think that people stay because, even though we are at a high population at Lake City, the staff and the administration make all the difference," she said. "We are finding that we do get more support from the parents and the community. As a teacher, you like that. It makes you go, 'This is a good place to be.'"
Arman describes her work at Lake City as a "dream job" because of that support. She has been employed by the Coeur d'Alene School District for 20 years; her children are students in Post Falls. She said she has never even considered working in Washington — even though salaries tend to be higher there — because it has been important to her to be a part of the communities where her kids and students are.
"I know what’s going on for my kids and my own personal kids," she said, adding that she would have felt too disconnected teaching in Spokane. "It seems very large to me. It does not seem as personable to me as the Coeur d’Alene District does."
What keeps teachers coming back? Robust benefit plans and locally competitive salaries; career development; incentives for hard-to-fill positions and recognition that celebrates staff successes, according to Coeur d'Alene Superintendent Steve Cook.
"We provide many opportunities for support and growth — a mentoring program, job-embedded collaboration time, instructional coaching, professional development budget to support school and district initiatives," Cook said. "We also have access to local institutions of higher education to support continuing education."
The scenery helps: "We also have a beautiful place to live and work," Cook added.
Lakeland Superintendent Becky Meyer said it’s important to consider a broad range of factors when discussing this sort of data. Lakeland Junior High experienced lower-than-average teacher retention rates in ’16, ’17 and ’18 — 66.7 percent, 67.9 percent and 70.4 percent, respectively — but those cuts were gradually done.
"We had to cut staff at Lakeland, which we did through attrition," she said. "We didn't terminate anybody."
Class size played a part in those changes, she said.
"We had a really small class at the junior high. Sixth and seventh were a lot smaller. We had to shift staff in our district,” she said, explaining that staff at Lakeland Junior High could have been moved to Timberlake Junior High where they were needed.
Retirements and resignations should also be considered, she said.
"You can't just assume they're going to higher paying jobs in Nevada or Washington," she said.
For teachers like Arman, pay is not the pinnacle.
"We go into this knowing, especially in North Idaho, you're not going to make millions and millions of dollars. That's not what it’s about," she said. "Kids need to be helped. As long as that remains the focus, teachers want to stay."