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District uses feedback to address Exceptional Children educator retention

RELEASE DATE:  May 30, 2024

District uses feedback to address Exceptional Children educator retentionThis school year, Charleston County School District (CCSD) assembled a Special Educator Recruitment and Retention Task Force to look at teacher, teacher assistant (TA), and related staff retention.

The task force was made up of more than 70 stakeholders in various roles across the district who gave feedback and offered advice based on real-life experiences. The group also considered feedback from the retention and recruitment survey sent out earlier this year.

What CCSD heard

According to Beverly Holt-Pilkey, Executive Director of the Department of Exceptional Children (DEC), increased collaboration and professional development (PD) opportunities were very important to respondents and stakeholders.

Also important to note that TAs indicated a need for a clearer path to receiving their teaching certifications.

“CCSD’s Division of Human Resources has crafted remarkable pathways to certification, and we recognize that we need to make those more readily accessible to TAs interested in taking the next step,” said Holt-Pilkey. “This is the first time we had a good way to hear from TAs about what they want and need to grow as professionals.” 

What CCSD is doing

The task force and the survey results indicated that a one-size-fits-all approach to PD is not desirable or effective.

“We carefully listened to the feedback and looked at our professional development offerings through the lens of multiple audiences,” said Holt-Pilkey. “The new professional development plan has four audiences: administrators, special education teachers and teacher assistants, evaluators, and general education teachers. We are differentiating pathways based on a novice, an intermediate, and an advanced participant. That will help us focus our offerings and be able to orient the session content to specific audiences.” 

Sherry Bell, Assistant Executive Director of the Department of Exceptional Children, explained that 67 percent of students with disabilities spend 80 percent of the school day in a general education classroom. 

“We saw a need for training and education for general education teachers and administrators,” said Bell.

Additionally, TAs want more professional development focused on working with the unique needs of students with disabilities and learning more about their roles and responsibilities.

“One way we plan to be responsive to that communication is through a weekly newsletter for TAs with tips and information that is helpful,” added Bell. “In it, we have included a special education glossary and outlined TA training sessions for next year.”

The improved PD plan is a school-year effort but there are also some things scheduled for the summer.

“We tried to make the most use of PD opportunities already built into the calendar,” said Bell. “The annual Educator Summit hosted by DEC, held July 22 and 29, 2024 will allow us to launch some new initiatives prior to the school year.”

Why the improvement is important

We hope by improving our professional development and training opportunities, special educators feel supported and heard,” said Holt-Pilkey. “Our goal is to provide resources and tools that benefit them and ultimately benefit our students. CCSD is the best district in which to be a special educator, and we want to ensure the adults working with our students feel confident and have the tools they need to be successful.”

Bell added that it is all about those teachers confidently carrying out their roles and responsibilities.

“That, in turn, connects to improving outcomes for students with disabilities,” said Bell.

Holt-Pilkey and Bell are appreciative of the effort, time, and attention the task force and survey respondents put into their feedback.

“Teacher retention is so critical when building momentum and seeing success and gains for students,” said Holt-Pilkey. “Having the continuity of a highly effective teacher is what we know makes a difference.

Bell explained that relationships with students with disabilities are not just about having highly qualified teachers but about consistency.

“Building relationships matter, and it makes a difference,” said Bell. “Socialization and communication is something our students may struggle with anyway. It is very important they have consistent people in their lives to teach them so they are not having to learn and build relationships with a new person.”