Keeping teachers requires help from community

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I have some disturbing statistics to share. This year the Avalon school will lose 1/3 of the teachers. We are losing our principal. Our esteemed librarian of 20 years, a renowned teacher/coach/activities director who has been at the school 33 years, and 2 of our veteran teachers will all be retiring.

Our rural K-12 school will lose 4 of our 5 middle school teachers, 3 teachers on our high school staff, and 3 of our 6 special education teachers.

Research tells us loss of teachers is common, especially in rural tourist communities where housing is problematic. This year it has become possible for new teachers to be able to transfer to the mainland after only one year at our school which has exacerbated the turnover issue.

These turnovers sever the relationships formed between teachers and their students as well as parents. The student’s academic support system is weakened. Losing teachers makes it difficult to maintain a school learning climate. Recruiting qualified staff and training new staff can be time consuming. We train the new teachers, only for them to move on.

Research also tells us teachers choose to stay in a community at higher rates when they have a strong sense of connectedness resulting from having been made to feel welcome and part of the community.

We need to ask ourselves how can we make our incoming teachers feel welcome? One obvious answer is if they want to live on the island, find them homes. The elementary staff is stable because those new teachers have found housing and are engaging in our community.

Some teachers and support staff will be unable to live here due to having families and homes on the mainland. We can also make them feel more welcome by providing affordable overnight accommodations if boats are cancelled or when school activities occur in the evenings. The last time a boat was cancelled 19 staff were off campus. Had there been affordable accommodations they would have been able stay. Few local substitutes are available. Unfortunately, the teachers who live here must cover for the missing staff. There are approximately 10 cancelled boats in a year when learning is lost. At one time, the Curtin family allowed teachers to stay for free in their hotel when the boats were cancelled to give back to the community. Perhaps some hotels in town might volunteer to do the same now.

Designated teacher housing would be the most obvious long term solution. The hospital has some 30 units of housing to assure that our medical staff is accommodated. The conservancy, the island company, our sheriff, fire and bay watch and organizations that support our island all have designated housing.

Currently when new teachers arrive, the already over worked office staff at the school must scramble to try to locate housing for these teachers. Every year it is more difficult due to the designated housing already taken by other entities and the great increase in short term weekend rentals in recent years. According to Catalina Island Vacation Rentals, winter rentals more common in the past, are rare now because the season begins in March and ends in October.

As we speak, next year’s prospective teachers are being interviewed. 2 teachers are already searching for housing. Interviewers encourage them to consider moving to the island. However, the district no longer requires this as part of the hiring process.

Imagine how many more teachers would choose to move here if the interviewer could say “Affordable housing is available”!

Our gratitude goes out to those who have rented their homes to teacher’s in the past. However, due to the large number of incoming teachers, we must appeal to property owners and businesses who would be willing to make affordable housing available.

Areas of need include year round housing and occasional overnight availability for school staff that commute daily. For those interested in helping to provide winter rentals, the school year begins at the end of August and ends in mid-June. Winter rentals with flexible dates other than these dates are an option.

If you have no housing available but some free time, perhaps you would consider becoming a substitute teacher. District requirements include a bachelor’s degree and passage of the CBEST test. There is an hourly wage of $32.

Schools are the heart of a healthy community. If you have the desire to help our unique rural K-12 school welcome and retain a committed qualified staff let us know.

Please contact:

Carol Henderson 310-510-0790

Eileen Torres 310 292-1071

Lindsey Mattingly


Retired Avalon School Teacher