Charter schools getting creative to keep teachers

In the face of a nationwide teacher shortage, schools expand family-related benefits.
In the face of a nationwide teacher shortage, and issues with teacher retention, schools across Middle Tennessee are getting creative when it comes to hiring.
Published: Nov. 17, 2023 at 6:14 PM CST
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WSMV) - In the face of a nationwide teacher shortage, and issues with teacher retention, schools across Middle Tennessee are getting creative when it comes to hiring and keeping teachers in the classroom. In Davidson County, two charter schools say the key is focusing on the family.

“Our teachers need more support in order to do the work that they love and that they’re so talented at doing- which is serving students,” said Kristen McGraner, the Board Chair of Little Wonders Early Learning Center and founder of Stem Prep Academy.

Stem Prep Academy began providing some of that additional support by opening “Little Wonders Early Learning Center” on the school campus last year. Teachers get priority for admission and reduced tuition.

“I don’t know if I would be back in the classroom if it wasn’t for the daycare Little Wonders,” said Hannah Rice, a 5th-grade math teacher at the school. She has two children at Little Wonders.

McGraner says it’s responses like Rice’s that motivated a group of educators to come up with the idea for Little Wonders.

“We talk all the time, and believe, that it’s really important to educate the whole child, but we don’t talk about what it means to support the whole teacher and so Little Wonders is a perfect example of an effort by a team of educators to support the whole teacher,” said McGraner.

It’s a similar motivation over at Intrepid Academy

“It’s when you take care of the whole person. That’s when they stick around because they feel seen and cared for,” said Amy Shelton, the Senior Director of Human Capital with Intrepid Academy.

This year, Intrepid Academy introduced a daycare stipend through an employer-funded dependent care FSA, as well as up to 18 weeks of paid family leave. They say the changes came from employee feedback.

“So many folks just said ‘time.’ I just need time to recover. I just need time to be with my kid. Or, because childcare is so hard to get in the city, I just need time because I don’t have backup care ready to go,” said Shelton.

Eighth-grade math teacher Amber Howard is among those taking advantage of the policy this year. Her son, August, was born in August of 2023.

“I feel incredibly grateful to be where we are and know that the people at my school are going to work with me in this huge life transition,” said Amber Howard.

Stem Prep and Intrepid say they can’t ignore outside issues, like the childcare crisis in Davidson County when it comes to trying to keep teachers in the classroom. So while they’re tackling the issue differently, they say the ultimate goal is the same.

“We want to create a place where people feel like they can do this job and do this job for a long time,” said Shelton.

“We’re going to be a place where teachers can come back into the workforce, stay in the workforce, they can continue to impact our kids,” said McGraner.

Teachers say knowing their family is well cared for helps them better care for students.