Supporting ‘Supportive’ Schools

By Jeanne McCann — August 01, 2003 2 min read

How to slash teacher turnover in the nation’s neediest schools? A nonprofit organization called Resources for Indispensable Schools and Educators (RISE) thinks it has an answer.

While public school teachers leave the field at a rate of 12.4 percent per year, the rate for teachers in schools with high concentrations of poor students is 15.2 percent, according to one analysis of federal survey data on more than 50,000 teachers nationwide.

But a recent report by the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future contends that the rate could be reduced if policymakers made sure that those teachers felt more supported. It’s not just low pay that pushes teachers out the door, the report says. Frustrations over poor working conditions—lack of supplies, or lack of input into decision-making, for instance—often make the challenges of teaching insurmountable.

Enter RISE, a group that’s trying to slow teacher turnover in high-poverty schools.

“I’m a hypocrite, but for a good reason,” jokes Temp Keller, founder and president of the San Francisco-based group. Keller himself left teaching in a high-poverty school after only two years to found RISE. RISE—apparently unique in its approacc—works to match high- quality teachers with pre-screened schools serving low-income communities, and then tries to help those teachers stay put by providing financial and other resources.

RISE identifies what it calls “supportive” schools through a painstaking application and vetting process. Before a school is accepted into its network, RISE looks at how its teachers are treated, and how much they are involved in decision-making. “We’re looking for schools and leaders that truly value people,” says Keller.

RISE visits each school, talks with employees, and checks the school’s overall ambience, including such things as how clean the school grounds are. Once a school is accepted and pays the $750 fee, it can post job openings and search the databank of RISE teachers. “We’re fixated on the fact that principals don’t have enough time. They recognize that access to pre-screened teachers is of great value,” Keller says.

Only experienced—and certified—teachers can apply to the RISE network, which gets them access to financial discounts at places like Target and Marshall Fields, and to jobs from RISE- approved schools. RISE also interviews and checks each applicant’s references, and requires evidence of a teacher’s effectiveness in the classroom. There’s no charge to teachers. Keller estimates he currently has about 160 teachers in the pipeline for jobs in RISE schools.

“No one is working on retention” in these communities, Keller says. “It’s like a swimming pool rapidly losing water. The answer is not dumping in more water, it’s fixing the leaks.”

The RISE program is small but growing. Keller estimates that between 20-30 teachers have found matches through its network of 28 schools, most in the Bay area. RISE has just expanded to Los Angeles and Chicago, but Keller says, he’s dedicated to “growing right” so is growing slowly.