Teacher retention improved slightly in Roanoke City Public Schools this school year, though more than 100 teachers tendered resignations.

Roanoke City Public Schools Human Resources Director Marcheta Turner told the Roanoke School Board on Tuesday the division retained 87.2% of its teachers, a 1.7 point increase from a year ago.

Of the 137 teachers who left, 107 resigned, 28 retired and two did not receive a contract renewal.

The school system emailed an exit survey to those who left voluntarily. A total of 105 teachers responded.

Thirty percent said they left for another teaching job; 24% listed family relocation or spousal transfer; 10% cited the quality of their supervision and about 9% said they found another career opportunity or job with a better fit.

About 16% of teachers cited a personal illness or family need, while 10% did not give a reason for their departure. One teacher said they left to attend graduate school.

Though retention has improved overall since 2010, Roanoke has lost many teachers to other school divisions over the years. Most left for Roanoke County, Salem or Montgomery and Botetourt counties this year, Turner said.

Superintendent Rita Bishop said Roanoke faces challenges in retention similar to other areas across the U.S., especially in urban school systems.

School board member Dick Willis suggested the school system try speaking directly to outgoing teachers to help gain a better understanding of their decision making.

On Tuesday, board members discussed seeking a firm to conduct a school system climate survey among current employees next year.

The school board previously hired a data company, Cambridge Education, to poll employees about workplace culture and their opinion of the school division.

In the survey, held in fall 2017, faculty and staff rated the schools 3.9 out of 5 overall, but six in 10 employees who responded said it was “seldom” or “almost never” true that staff can disagree with leadership without fear of retaliation.

The school system has implemented strategies to address retention, such as pay raises.

The school board approved a two-year plan to raise teacher pay last spring. The first phase began this school year and boosted salaries for more seasoned educators. The final phase is set to begin next school year, and benefits teachers with less experience, along with increasing starting pay from $40,000 to $42,000.

Turner also presented retention data for professional staff members, which includes teachers, guidance counselors and media specialists.

The data factors in staff members who transferred to other schools within the division, Turner said in response to a question from board member Joyce Watkins.

Lucy Addison Middle had the highest percentage of professional staff turnover, with more than 50%, or 25 of 47 employees, not returning to the school, according to the data.

The middle school, with enrollment of about 600 students, has lacked stability in leadership over the past year a half. After the former principal left for another job, the school had two interim principals last school year. The school’s most recent principal, Andy Wheeling, left the job for medical reasons, the school system announced earlier this month.

Other schools that retained fewer professional staff members this year versus a year ago are James Breckinridge, James Madison and Woodrow Wilson middle schools, along with Fairview, Fallon Park, Garden City, Lincoln Terrace, Monterey, Morningside and Virginia Heights elementary schools and Forest Park Academy and the Roanoke Academy for Math and Science.

In other business, Deputy Superintendent Dan Lyons and Durham School Services Regional Manager Dave Brabender updated the board on transportation services.

Lyons said buses doubled their runs on 16 routes Tuesday morning, a 50% decrease from two weeks ago.

Brabender said the company has about 26 potential drivers in training. Since Oct. 1, the company hired 12 applicants but lost five drivers, Brabender said. Of the five who left, two accepted full-time jobs, one relocated and two walked off the job, Brabender said.

The company also extended its $2,500 sign-on bonus window to Nov. 1, he said.

Durham has struggled to fill vacancies in its first year as Roanoke’s school transportation provider.

Brabender said he expects the company will fill enough vacancies to cover all routes by the end of next month.

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