HAVERHILL — Mayor James Fiorentini and most of the School Committee members insisted Thursday night that the Haverhill schools do not have a serious turnover problem of administrators and teachers.
School Committee member Maura Ryan-Ciardiello said she was concerned about the “drastic number of teachers who have left.”
Two of her colleagues, Sven Amirian and Gail Sullivan, said Haverhill’s loss of teachers is near the state average. Amirian said he did some research and found out Haverhill recently retained 88% of its teachers while North Andover kept 86.5%. A few years ago, Amirian said, Haverhill had a teacher retention rate of 90.1%.
“It is not a crisis,” he said.
Mayor James Fiorentini, ex officio chairman of the committee, agreed.
City Councilor Joseph Bevilacqua, who served on the School Committee for many years before he was elected to his current position, recently called for a review of the School Department to find out why so many teachers and administrators have left.
“We need to find out why experienced teachers are leaving and why key administrators have left,” Bevilacqua said. Eighty-three teachers and eight administrators have left the system this year, according to the School Department’s human resources office. The most recent administrator to leave was Darshan Thakkar, the chief academic officer for the elementary grades and Title I administrator. Thakkar said he resigned because he was not respected. School Committee member Paul Magliocchetti angrily criticized recent coverage of the issue by The Eagle-Tribune. Superintendent Margaret Marotta, he said, “is doing a stellar job.” During the tenure of Marotta’s predecessor, James Scully, 45% of the principals left during his first few years, Magliocchetti said.
“Haverhill is no different from other communities,” said Jeff Grassi, a community activist who heads the Farmers’ Market. Marotta, who was hired as superintendent in July of last year, is “working tirelessly to retain teachers.”
Ryan-Ciardiello asked about exit interviews of teachers and administrators who leave the system. John O’Connor, a former superintendent of schools in Dover, New Hampshire and Tewksbury who has been assisting the human resources office, said he has conducted “a total of two exit interviews” during his time in the district.
Nine out of 10 exit interviews, he said, are not useful. Diane Connelly, a veteran Haverhill educator who was principal of Pentucket Lake School for many years and is helping out at Golden Hill School, said the district is making a strenuous effort to retain teachers.
The “robust” mentoring program provides new teachers with professional development and guidance on classroom management techniques, she said.
Matthew Holt, a first year teacher at Tilton School, said the program has helped him immensely. Holt worked in the financial industry for many years but his experience in coaching fostered a desire to teach, he said.
Marotta pointed out that retaining teachers is a challenge that faces school districts “across America.”
“We want our teachers to be supported,” she said.