By Maeve Murray
Sopris Sun Youth Correspondent
Teacher retention, and employee retention in general, has increasingly been a problem in the Roaring Fork Valley. Recently, it has become a crisis. As COVID-19 spread throughout the Valley and schools shut down, teachers were put under immense pressure and many even quit.
There were many reasons for such high levels of turnover, including stress, decreasing class participation, COVID protocols, but most critically — low pay. Megan Baiardo, Roaring Fork High School’s (RFHS) new principal, put it this way, “We have amazing students and amazing opportunities to aim for, post-graduation,” but added, “We have historically not competed well for staff living wages.” It’s no secret, many teachers in the Roaring Fork Valley don’t feel that they’re being paid enough.
Living in a beautiful valley comes with its own set of challenges, such as higher rent costs which the community has tried to address time and time again. Not only is the pay lacking but, Baiardo adds, “We are small, and therefore the work becomes harder.” Because there is a smaller staff, teachers take on huge responsibilities to get students the resources they deserve. This certainly takes a toll on employees. The best way to keep staff is “to become more accessible [and] to attract and keep good, talented teachers.”
So what can we do to help?
Supporting and nurturing our teachers the same way they nurture students is crucial. The school environment is like a family, and standing behind the staff as a community is what a family would do. Not only have many teachers left their positions, but part-time support staff, like substitutes, have as well. “[Teachers] are covering [their] own classes and losing planning time,” explains Baiardo.
Frankly, the best way to support our teachers at this time is to apply to be a substitute teacher. Furthermore, “RFHS has not filled the library position and is having a hard time hiring an attendance secretary,” Baiardo says. If you have any experience in these fields and a desire to participate, contact RFHS to see how you can help!
Additionally, Baiardo states, it’s important to understand that teachers are under “tremendous pressure.” As students, the best way to help teachers “is to engage with us and find their way back into learning, connecting, and succeeding in school.” Teachers worry when kids don’t show up to class or don’t pass their classes. Their job is to make sure that students “have healthy minds and bodies.”
It’s been a hard time for everyone these past couple of years, and supporting each other is important. Although teachers have been worked thin trying to get the school environment back to normal, the community has already stepped up in order to better support them. “Parents donated money to make sure we get great meals for conferences and other events,” Baiarado says. Parents can also join RFHS’s booster club to support school events. Teachers put in a tremendous amount of their time at after-school activities, and having parent volunteers would help significantly. Baiardo’s gratitude strongly goes out to everyone who voted “yes” on 5B for the mill levy override on the most recent ballot. She and other teachers in the Valley “are so grateful,” she says.
The Mill Levy Override adjusted taxes to help Roaring Fork schools with their staffing crisis. Teachers are thrilled that they are being recognized as important leaders in our community and to our youth. 5B directly contributed to a salary increase for our RFSD staff. Why did the community push so hard for a Mill Levy Override? Well, according to the “Yes on 5B” website, “Roaring Fork School District (RFSD) has the third most expensive cost of living out of all 178 Colorado school districts.” However, “RFSD ranks in the bottom third of per-pupil funding” in Colorado. Getting RFSD more funding is the first step in supporting our teachers more.
Don’t forget to encourage learning in all aspects of life, cut your teachers some slack and, most importantly, thank them for all their hard work. Learning is an artform, and teachers cultivate the artists of the next generation.