School superintendents are all too familiar with the costs of teacher turnover that deplete educational resources and challenge student achievement. A new paper, by Dayna DeFeo, director of ISER’s Center for Alaska Education Policy Research (CAEPR) and Trang Tran, ISER research professional, looks at how superintendents in Alaska’s rural districts – where teacher turnover is particularly pronounced – are working to address turnover by integrating a place-conscious approach in their hiring practices.

small chalkboard that says teachers wanted

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Recruiting, Hiring and Training Alaska’s Rural Teachers: How Superintendents Practice Place-Conscious Leadership,” is based on interviews with 32 school superintendents conducted for a broader project that calculated the cost of teacher turnover in Alaska.

“We were impressed at the overall breadth and depth of duties that rural superintendents shoulder, but particularly by how community vision, culture, and agency are foregrounded in teacher hiring and orientation activities,” co-author DeFeo said.

For each teacher leaving the district, superintendents in rural districts spend an average of 81.7 hours on selecting, hiring, training, and orientation. Although all of the superintendents had themselves come from outside of their rural districts, they enlisted local community members (elders and other representatives of the Native community, school board members, parents, and students) to help determine whether a candidate was a good fit, and to support the new teacher’s transition into the community.

Few teacher applicants are familiar with the unique qualities of remote rural Alaska. For many superintendents, the cost of flying candidates to the village prior to hiring was prohibitive. Superintendents told researchers of the many ways they used to inform candidates of the challenges and rewards of working in their communities, including spending long hours on the phone talking with applicants and connecting them with community members to answer questions.

Once hired, superintendents provided high level supervision of orientation activities, but relied upon community members to lead activities.  Superintendents placed an emphasis on engaging teachers in understanding the place where they would be working

DeFeo and Tran found superintendents’ focus on place-conscious leadership to come from a recognition that local communities are integral to the development of a successful school environment.  While superintendents understand the importance of place-conscious hiring, the authors encourage continued research to determine how these hiring practices affect teacher retention in rural Alaska.