This sounds more alarming than it should be.
KIPP, in competition with HISD for students, increasingly is wooing high-level staff, too. Mike Feinberg, cofounder and superintendent of KIPP Houston, calls the contest for administrators “a talent war.”
Since last year, at least 13 principals, administrators and central office workers have left HISD for KIPP, with some getting raises and promotions and others taking pay cuts. One has returned to the district, and another exited KIPP after a year.
Another popular charter school, YES Prep, has hired two HISD principals. HISD has poached at least one administrator from KIPP.
The turnover has some HISD trustees worried about morale under Grier, at the helm nearly two years.
“People leaving are young people who we’ve grown. They speak of their real regret about leaving,” said Trustee Anna Eastman. “I think it’s telling. We need to be listening to our employees and be aware if they are not satisfied, challenged or feeling valued in their jobs.”
HISD officials, reluctant to talk about specific employees, said privately that some who left for the charter schools weren’t top performers, and one who asked to return was denied. Two worked at campuses that Grier tapped for his reform program, Apollo.
“While I hate to lose good people, and we have lost several to the charter organizations,” Grier wrote in a memo to principals in May, “I believe that our best principals continue to work in HISD and I want to keep it that way.”
At that time, HISD board member Mike Lunceford was expressing concern about the departure of principals from two top-rated schools in his district, Twain Elementary and Johnston Middle.
“HISD does not need to become the farm club for KIPP,” Lunceford said.
On the one hand, HISD should note that it must be doing something right if charters like KIPP want to hire its employees. On the other hand, HISD shouldn’t delude itself about why KIPP has been successful at doing so. It needs to understand why these employees choose to leave, and what if anything it ought to do about it. Some things – better pay, better opportunities for advancement, better working conditions – can and should be addressed where possible and appropriate. Others, like differences in philosophy, should perhaps be left as they are. If HISD doesn’t know or is unwilling to find out where all this is coming from, it can’t possibly respond to it. That would be a shame. The idea of charter schools was that a little competition would be good for the ISDs. This is a chance to test that theory.
All this is happening, by the way, as KIPP and other charter schools deal with their own legislative budget cuts. One effect of such cuts is a fairly significant departure from norms for KIPP:
There will be no more Saturday classes for students at the Knowledge is Power Program.
The extended school week — one of the trademarks of the popular charter school system — is going by the wayside, along with out-of-Houston field trips and pay raises for employees.
With its fiscal year starting July 1, KIPP Houston had to decide on cuts prior to the end of the special session that cost them $4.8 million in state funding for 2011-12.
Formal Saturday class for middle-schoolers is being replaced with independent study projects, a move that will save KIPP Houston at least $350,000 and, Feinberg says, might even help students develop better time management skills.
As Martha points out, having that extra time for remediation has been a key advantage for KIPP. It will be very interesting to see how this affects them.