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Sat, Feb. 22

PUSD relies on community for staff retention

Living in Prescott, Arizona, it is tough to pick a favorite time of year. However, it is hard to beat the holidays in Arizona’s Christmas City. I hope this column finds each of you enjoying your time with friends and family on this special day.

Today, I am counting my own blessings. I feel so fortunate to be a part of Prescott Unified School District (PUSD). Our amazing students are such a grand part of all that is happening in our community. Where I feel unbelievably lucky, is that as the superintendent of schools, I get this feeling of pride all the time, from 4,000 kids. I am so proud to see our students right in the thick of it, helping to make our Christmas City what it is. I hope that all of us in Prescott can feel that pride as we watch our young citizens participating, experiencing and enjoying Prescott.

In the last few weeks, I have been going about my work and really noticing the incredible people that I work with. I have long known that we have great people working in our schools, but have realized recently, that the longer we can keep these dedicated teachers, principals, office staff members, bus drivers, custodians and other support staff, the more effective we can be in supporting our children in this community.

In the midst of a nationwide teacher crisis, magnified in Arizona due to funding, we are actually enjoying some strong confidence in staff retention here in PUSD. (I should knock on wood.) Not that we do not have some serious concerns in recruiting and retaining special education teachers, as well as other specialized teaching areas. In talking to my colleagues across Arizona, we are doing better than most.

This can be attributed to many things. Our supportive Prescott community plays a very large part in this. The generosity of our community, the high value for education, and the actual education level of our community members helps to make our school district an anomaly. I have heard from our teachers and staff that the culture of our school district, often referred to as “The PUSD Family” plays a part in this. Although our pay is low in respect to the state and the country, I believe our staff knows we have done, and continue to do everything we can to balance teacher and staff pay with programs and class-size. This is no easy task in No. 47 in the country for funding.

We are trying to take a stand in this busy world in order to support our staff with work-life balance. Teachers are famous for working day and night in the perfectionist art of serving every child. That goal has no end to it. So we urge our teachers and staff to take care of themselves, find balance, and rest their hard working brains in a time when society does not allow for much breathing room. Indeed, research shows that our brains need a rest after around 90 minutes of activity in order to stay the course. In PUSD, we are trying to give our teachers, staff and students permission to have balanced lives, so that they can be efficient in their work and passion for educating every child.

We have a goal that our staff turnover in PUSD sets future records for being minimal. The vision continues with maybe just a handful of new teachers hired each year because folks retired or had other changes in their life. The people replacing them will be supported with a solid induction plan (already in place) and an assigned mentor teacher, living retired from this great profession in our community (already in the works.) Every member in our Prescott community can play a role in helping us to keep these amazing teachers and support staff members in place. It is the single most important thing that we can do for every child: put a great teacher in front of them. Tell an educator TODAY how much they mean to you, and the future of our community.

Joe Howard is the superintendent of the Prescott Unified School District.

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