Cassville district recognized by DESE for recruiting
District encourages students to return home to teach
In rural school districts, administrators often face special challenges when it comes to recruiting quality school teachers.
There is the issue of pay, availability of career opportunities for the teacher and their spouse, and lifestyle factors, including housing, entertainment and general lifestyle preferences.
The local school workforce is well-established and typically experiences significant retirement turnover trends as those teachers exit. Younger residents may be thinking about moving to larger cities for greater career and social opportunities versus teaching in a small district, especially if the local school district does not promote community engagement.
Despite these challenges, the Cassville school district has come up with a homegrown, progressive plan to persuade its graduates to come back home to teach.
The effort begins in the classroom, where teachers tell their students about the benefits of becoming educators in small districts, share their own reasons for becoming teachers, and the opportunities that exist in the students' hometown.
Additionally, high school students are given the opportunity to shadow teachers and gain field experience. Some Cassville teachers are also adjunct faculty members at Crowder Community College, where they encourage pre-education students to complete their education degrees at Missouri State University or Missouri Southern State University. The three-to-five-year process includes substitute teaching, student-teaching placements and job interviews for teacher candidates.
"We have turned around the question of 'Why would I become a Cassville teacher?' to 'Why wouldn't you become a Cassville teacher?''' said Richard Asbill, superintendent. "One of the keys is having teachers who promote education as a career. Teaching is an honorable and important part of our society and future, and we need to build and grow those leaders now."
Asbill said the district works with the teaching staff to establish more competitive and higher salaries than many surrounding districts, and the benefits are comparable with larger districts.
As a result of the district's efforts, according to Asbill, 25 percent of Cassville teachers are district alumni. About half have 11 years or more experience, ranking Cassville among the top districts in southwest Missouri in teacher experience.
"Cassville is a great example to other districts that face challenges in recruiting fully qualified teachers," said Paul Katnik, assistant commissioner in the Office of Educator Quality. "Their approach is a complement to Missouri's plan to provide every child in the state with equitable access to the best teachers available."
This year, the district also began offering a new course called Teach and Train, which offers coursework and a practicum to prepare students wanting to go into the education field. The courses help students see, through direct experience and before investing in a degree, if their expectations of teaching match up with the reality of the job so they can decide, now versus later, if teaching is something they really want to do. As a result, students graduate high school with a better understanding of what it takes to be a teacher, and with first-hand experience and knowledge to continue in their path to become a teacher.
Alumna Leisa Lasley, resource educator, began her teaching career 22 years ago at Cassville. Lasley and her husband, Brian, live in Cassville with their two daughters, Rachel and Abby, and son, Levi.
Melanie Grossman started her teaching career in East Newton, then returned home this year to teach high school business. Grossman and her husband, Randy, along with children Dylan, Reilly and Emerson call Cassville home.
Alumna Kristie Preddy is in her 17th year of teaching at Cassville. She taught science in Golden City for two years before coming back home to become the Primary guidance counselor. Preddy and her husband, Gary, also an alumni, have three children, Michaela, Bob and Grant.
Alumna Shari Rhea returned to Cassville after teaching in Texas, and has been with the district 19 years. She teaches sixth-grade communications arts and social studies and serves as coach for the middle school volleyball team. Rhea's husband, Darren, is also employed by the district. They have two sons, Kyle and Kris.
Alumnus Chris Shore, physical education teacher and coach, has been teaching at the Cassville school district for 21 years. He started his teaching career in Exeter. He resides in Cassville with his wife, Marla, and their two sons, Jordan and Derek.
Asbill said Lasley, Grossman, Preddy, Rhea and Shore are examples of the district's efforts to teach students, from an early age, the benefits of working for a smaller district and the close community connections and bond it offers.
Preparing, developing and supporting effective educators is one of the primary goals of Missouri's Top 10 by 20 initiative, which is an effort to rank among the top 10 states in education performance by 2020.