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KIBSD’s new instructional support program defined

March 15, 2017
KIBSD’s new instructional support program defined
By Noelle H. Lowery

It is never easy being the new kid — or teacher — in town. Combined that with living on a small, isolated island in the northern Pacific Ocean, and you just scratch the surface of the challenges faced by teachers new to the Kodiak Island Borough School District.
These challenges are not lost on those who lead the district, and this year, the KIBSD Department of Instruction instituted a new team-focused instructional support model. During the Feb. 20 regular Board of Education Meeting, Instructional Support Coordinator Kerry Irons made a program presentation to board members emphasizing the model’s efforts to support and retain new teachers to Kodiak and to the field of teaching.

“There is a clear relationship between teacher experience and student success,” Irons explained to the BOE. “Teachers want to be in a place that helps them feel like they are part of a team that is purposeful and relevant. It costs time and money to recruit new teachers. Time and money that we cannot afford to waste when it comes to our students.”

Teacher retention on Kodiak

To be sure, teacher retention has been an important topic of conversation on Kodiak for some time now. Last September, KIBSD Assistant Superintendent Marilyn Davidson publicly responded to questions in the community about teacher turnover. Her presentation included a detailed report to board members focused on the facts of certificated separation and hiring statistics for KIBSD between fiscal years 2016 and 2017, specifically examining total hires for FY17, certificated separations between FY16 and FY17, and the breakdown of those educators hired for the new school year.

According to Davidson’s report, KIBSD hired a total number of 46 certificated personnel for FY17. This total number comprised 39 hires for certificated separations along with the filling of seven new or previously vacant positions. These seven positions included some in special education, which decrease the need for off-island contracted services; new positions created at elementary schools for music, PE and intervention support; intervention support at KHS (not previously filled); and a newly-added grant position for the Munartet Project.

With specific regard to the 39 certificated separations, five teachers retired. Nine were the result of US Coast Guard transfers. Twenty teachers resigned for various reasons, and five others requested a leave of absence and will be returning next year.

All told, the breakdown of the 46 certificated personnel hired for FY17 included:
  • five teachers hired in one-year-only positions as a result of the leaves of absence;
  • 11 internal transfers granted to current teachers who applied, resulting in the reposting of their vacated positions;
  • 26 are either local folks, have local connections or are from within Alaska; and
  • seven came to Kodiak with the US Coast Guard.
This means that just 20 of the hires for the 2016-2017 school year were new to Kodiak and Alaska.

New to career, new to Kodiak

During Irons’ presentation to the BOE, she focused on teachers who had less than two years teaching in Kodiak as of the 2016-2017 school year. She also noted that this group incorporated two definitions of “new” teacher. First, there are those new to the teaching career, and second, there are those who are new to Kodiak.

As such, this group encompassed the following teachers:
  • 47 percent at Peterson Elementary
  • 38 percent at Main Elementary
  • 38 percent at East Elementary 
  • 69 percent at North Star Elementary
  • 27 percent at Kodiak Middle
  • 34 percent at Kodiak High School
  • 50 percent at Old Harbor 
  • 33 percent at Akhiok 
  • 50 percent at Larsen Bay
“We have a lot of new teachers. In most of our schools, we have 1/3 of teachers that are either in their first or second year of teaching. This is a significant issue in our schools,” noted Irons.

Irons went on to explain that different types of “new” teachers also have different needs. Those new to teaching as a career required help with classroom management, planning instruction, engaging students and instructional framework. Those new to teaching on Kodiak needed support with the specific KIBSD instructional framework, curriculum and resources, understanding district initiatives and expectations, and employing standards-based instruction and grading.

She added: “Every teacher has his or her own specific needs, and we have to work really hard to differentiate for them the work that we do to specifically address their needs as well.”

Support = Retention

KIBSD’s instructional support model is a two-pronged approach to teacher support, mentorship and retention. Collaboration and professional development are key at every level, and student success is always the goal.

First, there is an emphasis on helping new teachers in every way possible. While district-level instructional support, professional development and building administrators are available to help, mentorship and guidance is available in differing forms for each school. For instance, each elementary school has building-level instructional support. At KMS, new teachers are supported by their peers, especially those on their grade-level teams. KHS relies on program-based mentorship, and the Rural Schools look to Title 1 instructional support.

Second, there are the countless hours of work, training, planning and meetings that go into equipping the district’s instructional support staff. This includes weekly meetings between principals and their instructional support staff members, monthly collaborations, professional development opportunities and one-on-one meetings with Irons.

According to Irons and others who spoke at the BOE meeting, the program is working. Angie Hietala, instructional support staff at Peterson, summed up the general sentiment of the KIBSD staff members at the meeting to talk about the program. “This helps me help the teachers help the students be prepared for life and be engaged in learning,” she said.