Illustration by Meg Wagler for the Hauxeda.

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This article is part of a series by Hauxeda's education reporter, Cory Matteson, comparing the school board candidates' responses to topical questions.

Q: Teacher staffing is an issue of nationwide concern, at a time when many are retiring earlier in their careers or leaving the profession altogether. What would you do on the school board to encourage teachers to join the SPS system and then to stay there?

Kelly Byrne: As a member of the board I would prioritize addressing discipline policies that have made teaching more challenging and less enjoyable. I would make sure we prioritize our teachers within the budget to be sure that teachers’ wages are competitive and pace inflation. I would work for a more transparent district that seeks to include the teachers' voices throughout the process of improving “academic excellence.” Outside of parents, teachers are the most important aspect in a child’s education and that makes them the number one resource of the district.

Chad Courtney: I would work toward creating an environment for the recruitment and retention of teachers focused on the following:

  • Financial incentives through increase in pay, benefits and retirement support.
  • A reduction of student/teacher ratio through the implementation and creation of additional staff positions.
  • Working to improve the morale of teachers through improvements in responses to school disciplinary problems.
  • Quality teaching materials available for use by staff
  • Administrators who are responsive to teacher concerns and proactive in anticipating ways to improve the teaching experience.
  • A board who listens and demonstrates caring to what our teachers have to say.

I think the recently announced cooperatives with the local colleges and universities to hire their graduates will create a pipeline of new and talented teachers who are familiar with all that Springfield has to offer and are excited to remain here and build their futures in our community. We need to continue to foster these relationships so that these programs succeed.

We also, as a district, need to continue to work with our legislature to increase starting teacher compensation and elevate our average out of the basement of the state rankings. I believe it is atrocious that Missouri is dead last in starting teacher pay and 20% below the average for starting teacher pay. Gov. (Mike) Parson has asked for a starting minimum salary of $38,000, which is a step in the right direction towards compensating our teachers in a manner commensurate with their expertise.

Steve Makoski: We must prioritize competitive compensation for educators. SPS made a great move to increase starting pay to $39,946, which is above the state minimum of $38,000. Educator compensation must be evaluated yearly and remain reflective of market conditions. Other retention tools are evaluating teacher satisfaction and the overall culture within SPS. I have spoken to several educators who are overwhelmed by the disciplinary issues and distractions created that impede their ability to transfer knowledge to their students. Reviewing policies from a “bottom up” approach will be a priority. As a board member, I will be listening to evaluate how SPS can best augment staffing needs.

Charles Taylor: We are in a competitive marketplace for talent. While not a sufficient condition for retaining outstanding teachers, increasing compensation (salaries and benefits) is absolutely a necessary condition. We have made progress in this regard in relation to neighboring districts, and more must be done, recognizing that resources are always limited. Our initial efforts to ‘grow our own’ with SPS graduates (e.g., via the teaching thread in the HHS Hornet Academy) are showing promise and we must develop even stronger partnerships with local and regional universities. Compensation alone, however, is not sufficient. We must assure a spirit of innovation that keeps our best/brightest engaged and inspired with new ideas and opportunities. Formal shadowing programs for those classroom teachers contemplating leadership opportunities and professional development opportunities for those who want to remain in the classroom — but want to do so with ever-increasing success. There are also morale issues that must be confronted if we are to reverse the exodus of our very best teachers from the profession. Unfortunately, the default setting for education at almost every level is to change only by addition. That cannot continue. It’s incumbent on the board and district leaders to assure that all the things we ask teachers do not simply pile up; they must add up to more meaningful time to work directly with students. That is why teachers enter the profession, and it will be crucial to assuring they remain in the profession. It's also important that we turn down the volume on the unfortunate politicization of public education. Our teachers represent us at our best, and the drumbeat of uninformed criticism about, e.g., indoctrinating their students/our kids or having “three months off in the summer” is corrosive to the profession. It needs to stop. In short, we need to let teachers teach and treat them like the professionals they are.

Brandi VanAntwerp: I believe competitive wages, opportunity for career development, and healthy work environments are key recruitment and retention focus areas. The greatest challenges we face as a school district are sufficient funding for public education to support and retain SPS educators. I would advocate for increased funding for SPS from the state, and would advocate for improved work environments for teachers by seeking feedback from our teachers, who are front-line workers, to ensure I fully understand the needs of our district’s educators and to ensure the board is supporting the district’s needs.

Cory Matteson

Cory Matteson moved to Springfield in 2022 to join the team of Daily Citizen journalists and staff eager to launch a local news nonprofit. He returned to the Show-Me State nearly two decades after graduating from the University of Missouri-Columbia. Prior to arriving in Springfield, he worked as a reporter at the Lincoln Journal Star and Casper Star-Tribune. More by Cory Matteson