Summer break is quickly approaching. Many districts across the country have already celebrated graduations and the last day of school.
But, as students and teachers prepare for their hard-earned breaks, the important issues facing K12 schools aren’t going anywhere. From school safety to employee engagement to family partnerships, school leaders have a lot to ponder as they prepare for next year.
Dr. David Blaiklock is senior director of research at K12 Insight. He’s worked with more than 50 school districts across 15 states to help them collect and understand community input on vital topics, such as school climate and school safety. Before that, he worked for more than 15 years in the special education field as a residential director, teacher, and administrator.
We sat down with Dr. Blaiklock and asked him to look ahead to next year. He highlighted three pressing challenges that await school and district administrators when school starts up again. These issues are wide-ranging. But at the heart of each is a common thread: the need for school leaders to build stronger relationships with students, staff, parents, and community members.
So, what’s next?
1. A key part of school safety strategies will be to meet the social and emotional needs of all students.
With 22 school shootings in the first 21 weeks of this year, school districts need to find a way to screen and provide services for the mental health needs of all students.
But preventing violence shouldn’t be the only reason schools focus on social-emotional health.
“Beyond the extreme cases of school shooters, many students, particularly in the secondary grades, are experiencing increased pressure to perform at the top of their game at all times and are often overscheduled. Many schools are seeing an increase in depression, anxiety, and in some very sad cases, teen suicide.”
Moving forward, districts will need to continue developing and improving systems for providing mental health services to students and their families.
2. School districts will need to develop new strategies for recruiting and retaining teachers.
The recent spate of teacher strikes shows an increasing frustration among educators not only about their pay, but also the level of resources they have to teach students.
With reduced budgets and declining interest in the teaching profession, it’s getting harder to grow and retain a veteran teaching force.
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As new teachers begin to understand their salary trajectory, many also start to see the challenges they might face paying off student loans, purchasing a home, and having financial stability. “The problem is that when teachers start to understand the challenges of how their earning power will allow them to pay off student loan debt while working towards other financial goals, they begin to leave the profession in pursuit of fields that will not have these challenges,” Blaiklock says.
None of this takes into account the pay freezes that many teachers have faced in recent years.
“Given finite resources, as teachers continue to walk out and receive additional compensation, this will pull tight school budgets even tighter. School districts need to think about how they can accommodate these demands to recruit and retain a quality teaching workforce while still being able to stay within their budget.”
To face these challenges, school districts will need to ensure employees are engaged and determine other factors that may be impacting employee engagement.
3. Schools need to build stronger relationships with their entire community.
As Dr. Blaiklock points out, many communities across the country are growing older.
“As average life expectancy increases,” Blaiklock says, “many communities are close to a tipping point where the percentage of folks who are beyond the age of having children in school will be greater than the percentage of adults who have school-age children.”
For school districts, who need the support of as many community members as possible–especially when it comes to bonds and school funding–understanding the concerns of of all citizens, regardless of whether they have children in the district, is critical, Blaiklock says.
An important first step is ensuring that district leaders are gathering feedback from different groups–and not just parents, students, or staff. Perhaps even more important, that they have a plan for how to use that feedback to make improvements and earn widespread community trust.
Blaiklock encourages school districts to solicit feedback from non-K12 learners or their families, to see what other services they may be able to offer, like adult education courses or other programs.
What do you think of this list? Are these among the most pressing issues facing your schools in the fall of 2018? Tell us in the comments. And, don’t forget to listen to the final episode of our School Safety podcast series featuring Dr. Blaiklock. That’s coming soon. See previous podcasts here.