The CAST Schools Network received a $100,000 grant from the Meadows Foundation to help create a new program to recruit and retain teachers, the school system announced Tuesday.

The Centers for Applied Science and Technology Schools Network will use the grant to address teacher retention, one of the critical challenges in education that has only been exacerbated by the pandemic, according to a press release. The program will launch in the fall.

Fewer people are choosing to become teachers at the same time current teachers are leaving at higher rates. A 10-year Texas teacher retention analysis found only 49.8% of teachers who began teaching in 2010 remained in the field today, according to the press release.

A cohort of 30 novice and veteran teachers will work with the Urban Education Institute at the University of Texas at San Antonio to foster learning environments where teachers can evolve professionally and where students will be able to prepare for their futures.

“At CAST, we believe in listening to students, families, and educators,” Jeanne Russell, CAST Schools Executive Director, said in a statement. “We figured if we wanted to keep our teachers, we needed to start by asking them what they would change about their working conditions.”

CAST teachers, principals and stakeholders helped develop a model that includes an induction program, supportive peer network, stipends for mentors and new teachers, and a new annual teacher conference in collaboration with San Antonio Leaders and Teachers, a local educator network.

Part of the grant also will be used to create a new staffing model that provides more support and time for teachers to plan and collaborate with their peers. CAST Med High School English teacher Colleen Quirk said not having enough time in a day to get everything done she needs to do is the biggest challenge for teachers, both new and experienced. Eventually, she learned to prioritize her tasks but that it was a difficult skill to learn.

“You could pay me $1 million and the things I’m expected to do in a single day, it’s just not possible,” she said. “The expectations are very demoralizing.”

Quirk, who has taught for more than 18 years, added that this type of recruitment and retention program is crucial, especially right now.

“We have to get these young teachers understanding what the profession is about but also knowing that they’re not alone, and this is so exciting to actually have the time dedicated to it and the focus that’s honoring what the classroom teachers are doing. It’s just one of the best things I’ve seen in education in a long time. It’s going to make a difference.”

Based in Dallas, the Meadows Foundation aims to improve the quality of life for Texans by focusing funding on five areas: postsecondary completion, educator preparation, water conservation, depression, and homelessness, according to its website. Since 1948, the family foundation has awarded $1.32 billion in grants, including $76 million for public education and $84 million for mental health.

“Retaining teachers is essential for Texas students and the future of our state,” said Peter M. Miller, president and CEO of The Meadows Foundation, in a statement. “Teaching has always been challenging, and we know how powerful great teachers are for their students.”

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Brooke Crum

Brooke Crum covered education for the San Antonio Report.