As one of its deficit-reduction strategies, the District 65 administration plans to replace all teachers who retire or leave the District with teachers who have three years of experience and a lower salary level. Before that proposal becomes policy, some Board members would like to know its potential impact on student learning.

In a proposal to the District 65 School Board discussed at the May 29 Board Policy Committee meeting, Human Resources Director Beth Sagett-Flores said, “There is a large body of research that has examined the relationship between teacher experience and teacher effectiveness. There is evidence that teachers in their earliest years of experience have a significant impact upon student achievement.”

The proposal also stated that this research, “like much of the research in the field of education, does not lend itself to deriving definitive conclusions.” Because of that she said, the District is implementing a “rigorous screening process to review each application, using decision-making criteria and standards consistent with best practices. …” to ensure that the District hires high-quality teachers.

Board member Richard Rykhus asked about the District’s retention rate as compared with teacher ratings – in other words, he said, he wished to know whether the higher-rated teachers remained in the District or tended to leave after a few years. He asked administrators to create a grid showing “top teachers, medium teachers, etc.” and then to “look for a matrix to see how many top teachers remain.”

Board member Eileen Budde asked about the cycle of teacher recruitment and questioned whether the District was comparatively late in recruiting teachers, since recruitment efforts seemed to begin in earnest in March. Mr. Rykhus agreed, saying it might help “if we were able to get out [and start recruiting] early.”

Superintendent Hardy Murphy said, “If you want to see if we can hire earlier, we can – it’s not a crisis. Our transient rate is always about 9 or 10 [percent]. … I do think that being informed by this kind of grid analysis [would be beneficial].”

Ms. Sagett-Flores said District 65’s recruiting began in February. She also said the Wilmette public school system is going through its second round of interviews now. “We’re all in the same place,” she said.

Between March 1 and May 11, the District had received 287 applications for positions in special education, 215 for “primary” teaching, 124 for physical education, 50 for the Two-Way Immersion (TWI) program and 100 for administrative positions,” Ms. Sagett-Flores said.

Ms. Budde, who has taught in other school districts, said, “I don’t feel like there is any crisis … but I do see there is a point to get some offers early.”

Tracy Quattrocki, who chairs the Board Policy Committee, asked that the administration examine whether the District could expand the experience level of new recruits to four years without adversely impacting the budget. She asked, “How many [potential] teachers do we disqualify if we stick with the limit of three years experience?”

Ms. Sagett-Flores said, “The majority [of possible recruits] are in that one-to-three-year range.”

“We’ve never had a cap before, have we?” asked Ms. Quattrocki.

Dr. Murphy said, “Two times before, where there was a budget crisis [there was a cap]. …We save because of the difference in starting [salary] costs – difference in step – versus the cost of teachers’ leaving.”

Ms. Quattrocki asked for “an analysis of the impact of our policy on student learning. … If the average number of teacher experience is going to go down, we need to see what the impact on student learning might be – if teachers will need more professional development.”

In recapping the discussion, Mr. Rykhus repeated the requests for an update on the hiring procedures and a grid analysis of the retention and turnover of teachers with respect to their ratings and the ratings of teachers who will be leaving. “I’m optimistic about what we’ll find,” he said.

Dr. Murphy said, “We won’t have student outcomes [until] the fall.” Ms. Quattrocki said, “Those [results] should probably come back to the Board.”

The Committee came to no consensus on the proposed policy and set no firm date for discussion of the matter.

Mary Gavin is the founder of the Evanston RoundTable. After 23 years as its publisher and manager, she helped transition the RoundTable to nonprofit status in 2021. She continues to write, edit, mentor...