As the Anchorage School District works to retain new teachers amid a wave of departures, a once-widespread orientation initiative is receiving a fiscal shot in the arm from a nationwide grant.

The district and its teachers union, the Anchorage Education Association, are working together to recruit teachers and keep them in local schools. 

"Over the last five years, over 50 percent of our [new] teachers have left," said AEA president Tom Klaameyer. "This has a huge impact on learning in our district. It impacts the district financially, and it impacts student performance and outcomes."

The education community is banding together and bringing back the district's Teacher Induction Program, which covers topics ranging from formal orientations at ASD facilities to social mixers for educators who may be new arrivals to Alaska.

"We talk about everything," said West High School Principal Sven Gustafson. "What's coming up, how to use the library, how to handle seniors and juniors. Just things to have in teachers' heads as they start planning."

A decade ago, the program was in effect through the district. Over the years, budget cuts, attrition and changes in administration left the program on the back burner. Some schools kept it alive, while others allowed it to dissolve. 

"It helps any new teacher or teacher that has changed schools to feel comfortable," Gustafson said. "One of the benefits is teacher retention. A teacher that is happy and knows what they are doing is more likely to stick around."

West High is one of the few schools which kept the program running.

"At the end of the day, the more teachers we can keep on board, the more teachers we can keep in our schools, the higher the success rate is going to be with our students," Gustafson said.

On Tuesday night, AEA will present the Anchorage School Board with information regarding a $300,000 National Education Association grant being awarded to the district.

"It's called the Great Public Schools grant," Klaameyer said. "The money will be used over the next three years to improve onboarding, induction, orientation and mentoring to support new educators. The more teachers we can retain, the better it is for everyone."

"The transition was really easy for me," said program participant Yelena Reep, a Russian language teacher. "I was a longtime substitute teacher, so this is my first year of full-time teaching. I didn't know how the high school worked. This program really helped; everything is taken care of."

Induction program liaison Katrina Quinn has been teaching in Anchorage for three years. She says the program wasn't available when she started.

"We do a bunch of different things," Quinn said. "We try to have get-togethers – in fact, we have a paint night coming up. Bear Tooth [night] has also been very good: we'll go out and get some appetizers and just relax. It's great just to build relationships with each other, ask questions and get answers."

Gustafson says the program is important both for integrating new teachers into a school's culture and welcoming them and their families to Anchorage.

"We do things before school starts: we have barbecues, events so teachers can get to know other teachers, spouses and their kids and get to become a community," he said. "That's what you want in a school, is to have a community."

Editor's note: AEA president Tom Klaameyer initially said 50 percent of teachers have left. He later clarified that figure referred to new teachers who are still teaching in Anchorage five years after being hired.

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