OGDEN -- The percentage of teachers choosing to leave jobs with the Ogden School District is at a seven-year high, according to district numbers.
At the end of the 2012-2013 school year, 108 teachers chose to leave district employment, for personal or professional reasons, or because of retirement. The teachers who left were 15 percent of the total teachers employed at the end of the school year, district officials said.
That rate gives the OSD the highest voluntary teacher departure rate of any Top of Utah district, and by a significant margin. The Davis School District reported a 5.5 percent rate, which it said was an estimate. Exact percentages were provided by the Weber School District (6 percent); the Morgan School District (9.4 percent); and the Box Elder School District (9.6 percent).
So the questions are:
Why is the Ogden district's rate more than 5 percent higher than that of other area districts?
And why is the OSD's 2012-2013 rate 6 percent higher than its own rate from the 2008-2009 and 2009-2010 school years?
The answers to those questions depend on whom you ask.
"We have several things going on," said Ogden Superintendent Brad Smith, who went on to cite increased numbers of retirements, an improved economy offering more job options, and the Ogden district's "increased accountability measures and expectations" from its teachers.
"I think a very small minority, less than 10 folks, don't agree with the direction the district is moving," Smith said. "Reforms were implemented, and they are choosing to go elsewhere to work."
Lisa Vipperman, a former Highland Junior High teacher who left the Ogden dDistrict last summer after 14 years, said she knows of six former colleagues in two Ogden schools who took jobs elsewhere because of their disappointment with the district.
"And I know of a lot more who took early retirement, for less money, because they couldn't stand it anymore and had to get out," said Vipperman, who now works for the Davis School District. "One teacher, who took retirement two years early, said, 'They scheduled all the joy out of teaching for me.'"
Smith said the increased numbers of teacher retirements can be traced back to an Ogden school board decision of 10 or 15 years ago to hire more mid-career educators.
"Now, these folks are in their 25th to 30th year teaching," he said. "We have a very senior workforce that will begin retiring at an accelerated rate."
Smith said improved economic conditions tend to spark more job options and employee departures in pretty much every field of employment, not just in public education. Several local districts confirmed their percentages of teachers who left voluntarily this year were higher than expected.
And as for the third possible reason for Ogden's increased teacher departure rate, dissatisfaction with the OSD as an employer, Smith said he can live with that.
"If someone has principled objection to what we are doing, I applaud the integrity of anyone who says, 'I can't be a part of that.' I'm certainly not going to apologize for the tremendous gains our district has made, and the hard work those gains reflect. It's hard work, and the fact of the matter is that this is a difficult district to work in. Students have many challenges. Other places to work have less demands. If someone feels they want to go, it's probably a win-win for those teachers who leave and for the students of our district."
Vipperman said she is happier in her current district, where she said teachers are respected and treated as professionals. In Ogden, she was unhappy with changes that started in summer of 2011, when Smith, then an Ogden school board member, was chosen by fellow board members to become the district's new superintendent.
Chief among Vipperman's complaints are:
* The introduction of the Springboard curriculum, delivered to teachers in book form the Friday before the start of a school year. Teachers were told to drop their plans, based on their experience and special expertise, and to teach by the book.
* The requirement that teachers be at school for extended hours, which seemed to ignore the fact that many teachers spent long hours at school, followed by many hours per week doing class prep work at home. The district also scheduled data-related meetings during teacher prep time, forcing teachers to do even more work at home, Vipperman said.
* Intrusive supervision.
"People were constantly in the room to see how many times I said things, and what I wrote or didn't write on the board," Vipperman said. "I felt like I was working in a factory. That's not how you treat professionals."
Vipperman also said she has caught Smith in many falsehoods. In summer 2011, when the district gave teachers a non-negotiated contract to sign or face job loss, Smith said the Ogden Education Association had refused to negotiate, according to Vipperman. As an OEA officer at that time, Vipperman said she had been in those meetings and witnessed repeated negotiation attempts.
Vipperman also faults Smith for "trying to take full credit" for turning the district around when hundreds of teachers were working hard toward that goal, she said.
"Brad Smith has created this narrative that he saved the district," Vipperman said. "A lot of people got tired of the baloney in the district, and they left."
Two additional former OSD teachers, now working in other districts, agreed to be interviewed by the Standard-Examiner for this story, but changed their minds. Both said they feared repercussions.
Smith said district changes have been necessary for improvement.
"We are saying now that we have to fundamentally change, and that is hard," he said. "If change were easy I would be thin. Change is really hard on people. It makes them feel pressured. We are sensitive to that, but we cannot allow ourselves to be diverted from our focus on student achievement. At all."
Smith said it would be most fair to compare Ogden teacher departure rates to districts that are similar to Ogden in demographics and size. Smith said similar districts in Utah included the Salt Lake School District and the Provo School District.
The Salt Lake District's percentage of voluntary teacher departure was 10 percent, according to district spokesman Jason R. Olsen. Provo School District Superintendent Keith C. Rittel provided extra employment information, but when non-relevant data was subtracted, his district's rate was 14.8 percent. Rittel said one reason behind his district's high turnover may be its proximity to Brigham Young University, with its transitory population. Spouses may leave their jobs once their partners graduate, for example.
Contact reporter Nancy Van Valkenburg at 801-625-4275 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @S_ENancyVanV.