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Florida school board member wants to formalize teacher exit interviews

This comes after our investigation revealed the “brutal” truth behind teachers leaving the classroom.
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Posted at 9:41 AM, Apr 04, 2024

SARASOTA COUNTY, Fla. — A recent I-team investigation is now prompting one Florida school board member to speak up and act.

During a Sarasota County school board meeting Tuesday evening, member Tom Edwards asked for the district to begin conducting exit interviews with teachers who leave the district.

Edwards told us he was inspired after seeing our investigation last week where we obtained hundreds of teacher exit surveys from other districts to reveal the “brutal” truth behind why so many Florida teachers keep leaving.

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According to Florida’s Department of Education, more than 18,000 publicly-employed teachers left during the last school year alone. This represents about 10% of public teachers at the time.
The exit interviews we obtained for our story helped provide to the public more detailed insight into what continues to drive so many teachers away.

“What I loved about it is that it’s data I’ve heard often about our own teachers when they leave but we have no document of that,” Edward explained to district leaders and his board colleagues when he talked about LaGrone’s recent report.

“As I looked through a lot of your findings, I saw things that really justified one of my big initiatives, which is attainable housing and workforce housing,” he later told LaGrone.

“You can hear from teachers how they struggled to want to be able to be the best teacher they could be, but struggled to afford to be able to live anywhere here in Florida- whether it's Hillsborough, Palm Beach, or any of the different places that you had referenced in your report,” he said about the publicly available exit surveys.

LaGrone obtained the data by asking various school districts for copies of exit interviews conducted since last year.

In response, the Hillsborough County school district, Pinellas County school district, and Palm Beach County school district sent us spreadsheets from a total of more than 650 exit interviews conducted in those districts.

Pay, politics, and “out-of-control” student behavior were among the top reasons cited, according to the surveys we analyzed. But it was the comments left by departing teachers that offered some of the most detailed and brutal insight.

“The absolutely ridiculous and violent behavior of the students coupled with little to no consequences for said behavior was abhorrent. In the less than 3 weeks in this position I hated every minute of the day,” stated a former Pinellas County teacher who left just a few weeks after starting this past fall.

“We are at a breaking point. Our pay has not increased in years. The district is placing more and more on teachers,” a Hillsborough County teacher stated.

"It currently feels as though teachers are being hung out to dry in response to Governor DeSantis' transparent efforts to persecute educators,” said a teacher who left the Palm Beach County school district.

While Florida school districts are required by the state to ask departing teachers why they leave, some districts don’t or are inconsistent.

For those who do, most of the information collected and submitted to the state is broad and general. This forces districts who want to learn more about what’s driving teachers out to conduct their own deep dives.

“The reason we do the exit interviews is so we can find out what their experience was like and what we can do better to make things better for those still here, to retain them, and potentially have them come back if we can address the issues,” explained Hillsborough County HR manager Dr. Charmion Patten, who agreed to talk about her district’s exit surveys.

“If someone is leaving, they’re much more open and willing to tell you exactly how they’re feeling about something, so that’s very valuable,” Patten said.

Last school year, the Sarasota district lost just under 300 teachers, a record high.

“I strongly recommend we formalize and conduct exit interviews,” Edwards told his board Tuesday before the meeting concluded.

After his remarks, Edwards said his district superintendent came up to him to let him know he agreed, and that the district had just started to conduct formal teacher exit interviews. About 68 are now on file in the district to view.

“I am here to make sure that public education remains as competitive as possible and that precise information helps me zero in, and helps me talk to the superintendent about ideas and suggestions that will be able to enhance the job description, the salaries, and the housing opportunities for our teachers and staff,” Edwards said.

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