Testimony Before the Council of the District of Columbia Committee of the Whole at the Public Oversight Hearing on Teacher and Principal Turnover vs. Retention in the District’s Public Schools

Dec 16, 2021

Good afternoon, Chairman Mendelson and members of the Committee. My name is Shannon Hodge, and I am the Founding Executive Director of the DC Charter School Alliance, the local non-profit that advocates on behalf of public charter schools to ensure that all students in the District receive the great public education they deserve.

On behalf of the DC charter school community, I’m grateful for the opportunity to speak to you today about what charter schools are doing to recruit strong staff and reduce teacher and principal turnover. And this is an important topic, because we know that consistency and stability among teachers and staff is important for both student success and for overall workplace satisfaction. Today, you’ll hear many examples from school leaders on teacher and principal retention strategies they’ve found to be effective over the years. These are strategies that we consider to be best practices that can be replicated at scale across the District.

As you know, we’ve all had a difficult couple of years thanks to the ongoing pandemic. The challenges brought on by virtual learning and a shortage of support staff, including substitute teachers, has put added pressure on teachers. And we can expect that the next year will continue to be difficult as burned out teachers and principals are squeezed even more.

However, we know from the State Board of Education’s (SBOE) 2021 All-Teacher Survey that nearly nine in 10 charter teachers reported feeling supported by their school’s administrators during virtual learning (1). That shows that charter schools are doing something right.

Retention & Recruitment Strategies That Have Worked

In a survey administered by the DC Charter School Alliance to charter LEAs, many LEAs reported a number of retention strategies that have worked for their schools over the years, for both teachers and principals.

For example, schools reported that maximizing classroom supports, paying careful attention to culture and climate, transparent communication, and flexibility (when available) all contributed to a positive working environment that teachers appreciated. Schools also reported that providing regular and consistent professional development through courses and coaching cycles, growth opportunities to build leadership skills, paid professional development, as well as timely feedback were important to teachers. Additionally, schools that practiced positive reinforcement and  targeted celebrations, and offered opportunities for staff wellness programs were more likely to retain their teachers.

Beyond the working environment and growth opportunities, schools reported that, unsurprisingly, compensation is a major factor in retaining teachers. With rising costs of living both in the District and the surrounding areas, living and working in the District isn’t feasible for many teachers. That’s why schools that provide competitive salaries,  generous benefits, bonuses, stipends for training outside of school hours, retention bonuses, and periodic incentives are more successful in recruiting and retaining teachers.

Many of these same retention and recruitment strategies worked with principals, too. Schools reported a supportive environment, gratitude, coaching and development, clear expectations, weekly check-ins to support and provide feedback, and paid professional development opportunities are important in retaining principals. And again, compensation is important in recruiting and retaining principals. That includes competitive salaries, bonuses, and reimbursing educational expenses.

Those are just a few of the many recruitment and retention strategies that have worked for charter schools, and we believe that many of these are scalable across the District.


Our leaders also have recommendations for retention and recruitment strategies they believe they can benefit from that they just aren’t able to do on their own. For example, funding local emergency teaching certification and development programs—especially for high demand positions—would help put more teachers in the pipeline. And we need more teachers in the pipeline.

Partnering with universities on recruitment programs would also help bring in new talent from within the District, and keep them here. DC already supports the “Grow Your Own” Teacher Preparation Support Program to help dual enrollment students, public school graduates, and paraprofessionals become teachers in the District. Likewise, the University of the District of Columbia and American University both have programs to support and bring back DC high school students pursuing education degrees to teach in the District. And the Deputy Mayor for Education has announced an expansion to create a similar program for paraprofessionals. We should invest more in programs like these.

We also know how difficult teaching and leading schools has been during the pandemic, and we need to recognize that reality with city-sponsored increased mental health services for educators. Burnout is real, and we risk losing good people without these kinds of supports directed specifically towards educators.

And, finally, schools simply need funding that keeps up with the rising costs in the city. The Social Security Cost-of-Living Adjustment for 2022 will be 5.9 percent. Many schools typically match their own cost-of-living adjustments to this one, but unless local funding increases by that much, it will be difficult for them to do the same next school year. All the strategies in the world to retain teachers and principals won’t make a difference if we don’t have the money to pay them what they’re worth. Additionally, in a city that’s becoming more and more difficult to afford housing in, considering financial incentives for educators to live in and/or relocate to the District could be a powerful retention and recruitment tool.

Moving Forward

As I’ve said before this Council many times before, charter schools are nimble, innovative, and responsive at their core, and that has enabled them to adapt through the pandemic. We’re doing our very best to recruit and retain good teachers and principals, and we’ve been successful, though there’s always room for improvement. But we know that supporting teachers and principals in the coming years, and adapting as necessary to make sure we’re doing it right, will continue to be important as we recover from the pandemic and ensure that all our students are receiving the high quality education they deserve.

Thank you for your time and attention to this matter, and I welcome your questions.

(1) Compared to 79 percent of respondents overall.