The trickle down effect of school turnover

For educators and parents alike, there can sometimes seem a great divide between what happens in an actual school building and what’s going on behind the scenes at a leadership level. School boards, superintendents- even working within a school it’s easy to forget that these levels are operating out there independently. In Dallas these worlds crash together more often than not, as for the past three years the city has had a superintendent who is very hands on and often the source of change.

Dallas education politics took another turn in June when Mike Miles, the superintendent of the past three years resigned, leaving many questions in the air. Not only are parents and community members left wondering who will take the reigns next, but many decisions that were on Miles’ plate are left undecided, leaving the eduction community in Dallas in turmoil. Just one of the pressing matters to decide is budgeting- nonprofits operating within the school district that offer services to students are in limbo as to whether they will receive funding for next year- and how much of it.

This is hardly a new situation in Dallas; over the past twenty years the average term of a DISD superintendent was only two years, KERA reported. Michael Hinojosa, Miles’ predecessor, stayed six, and has been appointed interim superintendent while the board searches for a new superintendent. Hinojosa himself was not free from scandal, but Miles has been the one making headlines in recent years as he made one contested decision after the next and repeatedly butted heads with the school board. Just recently he survived a board meeting specifically called to review his performance, making his departure all the more unexpected.

So what happens to students when top-level leadership keeps turning over? Or, for that matter, when even mid-level leadership and teacher turnover is high? District decisions don’t happen in a bubble, and the constant turnover and the policy changes that happen as a result affect student outcomes. The trickle-down effect of school turnover is a real factor in education, as superintendent decisions affect more than just school leadership. Nonprofit funding levels affect student services, such as literacy tutoring for students who are behind grade level in reading. General policy decisions affect everything from district-level testing to whether or not certain students qualify for graduation.

Perhaps most significantly, superintendents often affect school leadership and teacher turnover, which impact students more directly. In a struggling district the weight of student achievement is often hung off the backs of teachers and principals, even when they entered positions at times of crisis. Too often in Dallas change has been expected too quickly, and those who failed to achieve certain growth targets were relocated or fired. As of June 17,  The Dallas Morning News reports that 58 schools will be changing principals in the fall. In sum Dallas ISD includes 224 schools. That means that just over 25 percent of schools will be changing school leadership next year.

Is turnover an issue in your school district? Let us know!

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Ellen Miller

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