Originally published Thursday, December 7, 2017 at 06:00a.m.

Beyond pay, many teachers’ motivation for why they either stay or leave a school district has to do with the in and out-of-classroom supports they garner to help them succeed with students, according to local administrators.

Whether that encouragement comes from colleagues, job coaches, administrators, or even other educators, the impact on teacher retention can prove significant, said Prescott Unified Schools Director of Professional Development Kelli Bradstreet.

In PUSD, Bradstreet said new teachers to the profession, as well as new teachers to the district or to a new educational discipline, have long been a focus of professional support.

A few years ago, the district invested money to start an instructional coaching program as a step toward ensuring these men and women benefit from guidance about curriculum, instructional standards and classroom management. Every year, Bradstreet arranges a variety of professional development and orientations specific to new teachers.

Until recently, Bradstreet thought such administration-endorsed supports were enough. Then Superintendent Joe Howard, an educational leader Bradstreet called a “visionary,” offered another suggestion.

At first, Bradstreet admitted, she was a bit reluctant to add something more. Howard let her chew on it. She changed her mind.

At the Governing Board meeting on Tuesday night, Bradstreet publicly announced the new idea: a voluntary mentoring program that matches new teachers, or those that may be new to teaching a particular course or group of students, with retired teachers. The aim would be for the matches to forge relationships that are not officially measured but could lead to amazing outcomes for students, she said.

The concept is not brand new.

Other districts in the nation, including in Aurora, Colorado, have implemented similar mentoring programs. The unique aspect of this one is that it is completely optional for both the teachers and the mentors.

Bradstreet likes the volunteer aspect as it ensures a joint willingness between teacher and mentor. She said it also allows the program to start small and gain word-of-mouth momentum.

PUSD has also gained a reputation for offering such mentoring relationships between volunteers, many of them retired education professionals, and students.

Prescott Teacher Association President Michael McCrady, a veteran teacher at Granite Mountain School, said he welcomes any program that will keep newer teachers in the district.

About a decade ago, McCrady said the district teamed newer teachers with more senior colleagues in their own buildings. With other in-school demands, and costs, that effort was discontinued.

Yet McCrady agrees that research is clear that teachers need a lot of support, particularly in the first three years. So he endorses any effort that will enable teachers to have an empathetic “sounding board” that may be able to steer them in a way that convinced them to stay in the profession.

To date, five teachers have signed up to participate, most of them working in special education. Bradstreet said she hopes as word spreads more teachers and mentors opt to join in this new endeavor.

She again voiced appreciation to Howard for once again thinking outside the box on ways to improve education without taxing an already stretched budget.

“He (Howard) has a vision that never stops,” she concluded.

In other business, the Governing Board was informed that the district is in solid financial shape with the budget carry over from fiscal 2016-2017 into the 2017-2018 budget expected to be over $1 million. Chief Financial Officer Brian Moore said the state considers districts financially stable when they can have a four to five percent year-over-year savings. This carry over amount equates to about 4.5 percent, he said.

The board may be asked to attend a special meeting before the holidays to consider what would be a fourth offer to purchase the district office building on South Granite Street. Howard said he will keep the board informed about negotiations and if there will be a need to vote on a potential offer.

He stated that progress on renovations at Washington School are proceeding such that he still anticipates a Feb. 1 move-in date.