File photo


The faculty of the Santa Monica-Malibu school district has changed dramatically entering the 2016-17 school year, a potentially troubling trend in a system where teacher turnover is seen as an obstacle to student achievement.

SMMUSD had hired 64 new teachers and still was looking to add about six more as of last week, according to district spokeswoman Gail Pinsker. That amounts to about 10 percent of the district’s approximately 700 certificated staffers, a group that includes teachers as well as senior managers, directors, principals, assistant principals, coordinators and other administrators.

The district’s hiring blitz followed significant attrition at the end of last school year, when more than 30 teachers and classified staff members retired.

The turnover is similar to that of previous years and “not unusual for a district of our size,” Pinsker said.

But the district’s employment dynamic carries a significant financial burden, according to education experts.

SMMUSD was unable to provide the Daily Press with an estimated cost of recruiting, hiring, processing and training all of the new teachers. Much of the expense comes in the form of the salaries of the district’s human relations staff and training consultants, Pinsker said.

The National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future, a nonprofit research and advocacy organization, estimates the cost of teacher turnover based on a variety of factors, including the number of new hires, the size of the district and whether or not the schools are located in urban areas.

Using the nonprofit’s estimation calculator, which accounts for expenses at both the district and site levels, the Daily Press found the cost of teacher turnover in SMMUSD to top $1.73 million.

“The estimate does not include the costs of teacher turnover to student learning,” the commission website reads.

The district has support systems in place for new employees, including its Beginning Teacher Support and Assessment program. Professional development and guidance are available to teachers through the district and the local Classroom Teachers Association.

“Each school site typically assigns a permanent teacher as a ‘buddy’ to a new teacher to help them acclimate to the culture and school community,” Pinsker said.

Teacher retention is a component of the district’s plan to close the achievement gap. Pedro Noguera, the UCLA professor and education reformist hired by SMMUSD to improve equity in the district, has said that changes in leadership can prevent schools from boosting student outcomes.

Noguera has urged the district to recruit a staff that reflects the diversity of the student body. He said the district must also recognize success, provide constructive feedback and work with union heads to keep keep qualified teachers.

Noguera said there’s greater potential for progress when principals and other school leaders are promoted from within. The district recently hired Antonio Shelton, who has been working in Ohio, to serve as principal at Santa Monica High School.

The staffing changes go all the way to the top of the administrative ranks, where interim co-superintendents Chris King and Sylvia Rousseau are running the district as a search continues for Sandra Lyon’s long-term replacement.