Johnson County superintendents share how they’re battling the teacher shortage

Despite an increase in teacher resignations throughout the country, Johnson County’s year-by-year resignation numbers haven’t seen a noticeable uptick.

In a story earlier this month, two teachers told the Daily Journal they left the profession because of changes in attitude from parents and children. They said both groups were becoming more combative and that felt a lack of support from school leadership.

Local school administrators have tried to make changes to retain teachers in recent years, they said. Administrators credit those steps, including pay increases and adding mental health services, as reasons why the rate of teachers leaving locally is holding steady.

A February survey from the National Education Association revealed 55% of educators were thinking about leaving their careers earlier than planned, up from 37% in August of 2021. The Indiana Department of Education’s school personnel job bank listed 2,561 available teaching jobs Friday morning. California’s largest school district, Los Angeles Unified, had about 500 teacher vacancies in September, five times more than the usual amount.

Of the more than 2,500 available teaching jobs listed on the Indiana Department of Education’s website, there are 40 from Johnson County. Though one in 43 Hoosiers living in Johnson County, according to census data, one in 64 teaching jobs listed Friday were within the county’s boundaries.

At Center Grove schools, resignations per year have varied between 30 and 37 each of the past five years. Superintendent Rick Arkanoff said the school district has focused on supporting faculty mental wellbeing, along with increasing the starting teacher salary to $44,169 during the 2021-22 school year, an 8% increase.

“We continue to work not just on benefits, but also on our facilities and working environment. We’re trying to make sure they have the resources, technology, equipment, textbooks and the classroom environment overall is clean and inviting,” Arkanoff said. “We have off-site (therapists). We’re looking to bring those on site. We have a program where staff can get counseling and plug them into mental health resources at no cost.”

Arkanoff encouraged parents to be more considerate of teachers and be mindful of how their actions can effect them.

“We’ve recently had individuals attack teachers on social media, saying things that just aren’t true. As a district, there’s not a lot of power and control over that,” Arkanoff said. “When people go out and do that, they are hurting teachers emotionally and professionally. There’s been a lot of cases that are outright lies about things that happened or didn’t happen in the classroom. They put things on social media, and the damage is done, and they wonder why people don’t stay.”

At Indian Creek schools, there have been 14 to 16 resignations a year from the 2019-20 school year to the 2021-22 school year, after having 10 or fewer the previous two years. Superintendent Tim Edsell credits the increase in departures to veteran teachers moving away from the district, possibly due to higher teacher pay elsewhere.

“Some teachers are going to another school district nearby and getting better pay. School corporations are trying to make their salaries more competitive,” Edsell said. “Teachers have the ability to study and investigate and see if they want to make that move. We’ve been on the positive and negative side of that; some teachers come to us (from other districts).”

Greenwood schools, which increased starting teacher salaries to be the county’s highest at $47,258, has maintained a range of 26 to 33 teacher resignations during the past five years. Edinburgh schools, which ranged between 10 and 13 resignations each of the past five years, had a successful referendum in May to increase teacher salaries. Both schools have also included incentives for teachers, such as at Greenwood schools, where Superintendent Terry Terhune said teachers got $100 bonuses.

“It’s not a ton of money, but it’s to show our appreciation,” Terhune said.

In 2018 and 2019, respectively, both Clark-Pleasant schools and Franklin schools passed referendums to increase teacher salaries. At Clark-Pleasant, with the exception of the 20-21 school year, when 27 teachers resigned, resignations have varied between 39 and 49 the past five school years. At Franklin schools, teacher resignations ranged from 15 to 28, but there was no increasing or decreasing overall chronological trend.

At Franklin schools, that increase in salary is combined with a grant program that pairs travel with professional enrichment opportunities. Although that program was halted during the pandemic, it will return for the 2023-24 school year, said David Clendening, superintendent.

There is no one solution to the teacher shortage, he said.

“I don’t know if there’s one silver bullet, like ‘this will be the reason people stay in the profession.’ Compensation does matter, we need to continue to have career pathways, showing they can be valued as an expert in their field and valued to grow professionally. Those are important parts. They need to feel supported inside the organization. When there’s communication struggles, they want to know, as a teacher or building principal, there’s someone with me that will support me through this; when turbulence occurs, I’m not there by myself,” Clendening said.

“When those three pieces come together, people will stay in the profession. It’s a great profession, even with the turmoil of the last few years. It’s a great profession and we need great teachers. Has it been stressful? Absolutely. We have younger professionals who are saying ‘I won’t do that.’ We have to find out how to come back and do that through teacher programs, mentoring and showing the profession in a favorable light.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.