Why did Prince Edward teachers leave? Exit surveys give answers

Published 5:40 am Monday, September 11, 2023

FARMVILLE – Thirty-eight staff members left Prince Edward County schools after classes ended in May. Some Prince Edward teachers retired, while others left for a new job elsewhere. The major question parents of current Prince Edward students and other members of the community want answered is why. Why did they leave? What could have convinced them to stay?

We at least have some answers to those questions, thanks to exit survey results. Every year when someone retires or quits a job in the district, they’re asked to fill out an exit survey. But there’s one problem: the state gives them one as well. That’s cut down on how many answer the district’s questions. 

“If they did the one from the state, they didn’t necessarily do the one from Prince Edward,” said Assistant Superintendent Dr. Michelle Wallace. Speaking at the Wednesday, Sept. 6 school board meeting, she explained to the members that out of 38 that left the district, 7 staff members answered the district’s exit survey. By comparison, according to the Virginia Department of Education, 35 out of 38 answered the state’s “Positions and Exit Collection” report. 

What did the surveys say? 

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So for the seven who responded, here’s how they answered the district’s questions. When asked to name three things that would have convinced them to stay, exiting staff said higher salaries, more time to plan or prepare lessons and more recognition for their work. More time to plan was the largest request, with 80% writing it in. 

As for what caused them to leave, the seven staff members gave multiple reasons. When it comes to leadership, 25% said they had a lack of support from school administration. Another 25% said they suffered from a “lack of autonomy in instructional decisions and/or classroom management.” In other words, they felt controlled by their supervisors, instead of being allowed to teach or handle the classroom as they saw fit. Meanwhile, 42% said the district’s policies and procedures played a role in making them quit. 

In terms of salary, only 28% said it was a driving factor in their decision to leave. Another 14% cited disappointment with the district’s insurance benefits, a lack of tuition assistance and lack of time off for professional development.  

Dr. Wallace argued that the district and school board have taken steps to address each of those concerns. 

“If you look at our calendar, teachers are being given about a day a month in the fall for a virtual teacher workday,” Wallace said, explaining how they helped teachers have time to plan. On that one day, Wallace said, teachers can plan from home during the designated teacher workday, rather than come to the building. She also pointed out that teachers in Prince Edward and across the state will get a 2% raise this year, now that the General Assembly has passed a budget.  

Concern over Prince Edward teachers 

Still, some school board members were concerned about another question on the exit survey. When asked if they would recommend the Prince Edward school district as a good place to work, 42% of the departing staff said no. 

Superintendent Dr. Barbara Johnson wasn’t at the Sept. 6 meeting, but acknowledged the surveys in a memo she sent out to staff. 

“We are actively moving forward to improve the culture of our division, not only for students but also for staff,” Johnson wrote. “And (we) will continue to review and assess methods to engage our school-based community.” 

What does state data say?

Are Prince Edward’s plans enough to stop teachers from leaving? A study by the National Education Association argues a bit more might be needed. While salary plays a part in the decision to leave, another issue, both in this region and across the state, is burnout. The NEA study found Virginia teachers are quitting (and prospective applicants staying away) partly due to increasing expectations and requirements. They’re being asked to do more with the same amount of resources, same time involved and same pay. 

“Finding a nurse or carpenter or a computer programmer who wishes to leave the private sector to teach for teacher pay is difficult to say the least,” the NEA report states. “Many teachers have been retiring from teaching after they reach that 30-year mark, even though they are not yet 65.”

Brian Carlton is the regional editor for the Farmville Herald, the Charlotte Gazette and the Kenbridge Victoria Dispatch. He can be reached at brian.carlton@farmvilleherald.com.