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Hudson looks to improve teacher morale and retention

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HUDSON – The Hudson City School District (HCSD) is participating in a study on how to improve teacher morale and retention, with the support and guidance of the NoVo Foundation. Results so far suggest that HCSD teachers and paraprofessionals need to feel appreciated, according to Assistant Superintendent of School Improvement, Dr. April Prestipino, in a presentation August 23 and dialogues September 13 and 19.

On December 7, 2021, at a HCSD Schoolboard meeting, Wayne Kinney, science teacher and president of the Hudson Teachers Association, portrayed teachers as feeling “unsafe” and “disrespected” on the job, subject to verbal insults and occasionally physical attacks. In the spring of 2022, outgoing school board member Charles Parmentier, whose wife has taught in the HCSD for close to three decades, said teachers spend extra time and their own money preparing for their students but “are not appreciated.”

Now, Dr. Prestipino said, although the HCSD has not seen “a significant increase in the number of teachers who leave after they have started to work for us,” the district is “struggling to find teachers in hard-to-fill areas, [such as] Technology, Family & Consumer Science, Spanish, and Special Education.” Other school districts in Columbia County are also “experiencing similar struggles. Districts are competing for the same small pool of qualified applicants.”

This spring, the HCSD received a grant of $50,000 from NoVo to use between March 2022 and June 2023 in order to participate in the study. The study is part of a program whose two “key purposes” are to “collaborate with educators and school leaders to co-design solutions that will address root causes of decreased teacher morale” and to “develop an…understanding of the experiences and challenges” that confront classroom educators related to social/emotional dimensions, well-being, and Covid-19 effects. In total, the program includes 12 school districts and charter schools across the country.

NoVo, as well as Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, are supporting Education First, which is administering the program. NoVo is a non-profit dedicated to “creating a more balanced world through collective imagination,” according to Dr. Prestipino’s presentation. Education First is a “strategy and policy organization with…expertise in education improvement,” according to its website.

According to Dr. Prestipino, the HCSD is in the third of the study’s four phases.

The first phase consisted of gathering empathy data from educators. This consisted of interviews, with questions like “While at school, when do you feel joy?” and “What do you wish was different at the school?” Thirty-eight teachers volunteered to be interviewed, Dr. Prestipino reported.

The second phase consisted of the NoVo Team examining and analyzing the data to determine root causes and define a “problem statement [that] articulate[s] the morale and retention issue we are trying to address.”

The agreed-upon statement ended up as: “The teachers and paraprofessionals …need a way to feel appreciated because they feel undervalued and unsupported.”

“We are not aware of the problem statements of any of the other 11 districts” in the NoVo study, Dr. Prestipino said. And her conversations with colleagues from neighboring districts have not revealed whether or not the HCSD’s problem statement applies to any other districts in Columbia County.

The third phase consists of “ideating” solutions and planning to test them. Some broad ideas discussed relate to improving and increasing communication between faculty, staff, and administration, Dr. Prestipino reported. However, the NoVo Team is currently seeking more specific input from the teachers who participated in the phase 1 interviews, inviting them to “ideate.” Once it has their input, it will be ready to define possible solutions and design tests for them.

The fourth phase will consist of testing proposed solutions. That is still to come.

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