In Springfield Public Schools, 257 teachers exited last year. Most were resignations.

·4 min read

In the past year, 257 teachers decided they were not returning to work in the Springfield school district.

The number of teachers exiting during the 2021-22 year was up from 183 the prior year, an increase of nearly 30 percent.

John Mulford, deputy superintendent of operations, said part of the uptick was expected as a portion of teachers eligible to retire a year ago postponed the decision due to the pandemic.

John Mulford
John Mulford

"We did expect it to be a little bit higher this year because of the number of people who were looking to retire (in 2021) but didn't want to leave during a COVID year," he said.

Had that not occurred, Mulford said the number of exits in each of the past two school years may have been similar.

More: SPS cuts bus service for three Springfield magnet programs due to driver shortage

Springfield is Missouri's largest public school district and the exact number of teachers fluctuates annually, based on enrollment and programming.

For the 2021-22 year, there were 1,859 certified employees paid based on the teacher salary schedule.

That means the district experienced a teacher turnover of nearly 14 percent. Turnover is typically between 10 and 12 percent.

"We are not out of line with where we thought we'd be," Mulford said.

The Kraft Administrative Center is the headquarters for Springfield Public Schools, which experienced an uptick in teacher resignations and retirements during the 2021-22 year.
The Kraft Administrative Center is the headquarters for Springfield Public Schools, which experienced an uptick in teacher resignations and retirements during the 2021-22 year.

A closer look at the 257 teacher exits showed roughly 68 percent were resignations and 30 percent were retirements. The rest were not specified.

The district is not always aware of why employees leave. Mulford said staff are able to fill out an exit survey, which is voluntary, but the process needs to be improved.

Mulford said the job market is highly competitive and there are a wide range of reasons why teachers leave.

Springfield recently upped its starting teacher pay to $41,544 — higher than nearly all regional districts — but still loses teachers to its neighboring districts, especially when the new job is closer to where the employee lives.

There are also teachers who leave the education profession altogether.

More: 100+ Missouri school districts to start upcoming year with new superintendent

Springfield officials have said while the district's pay and size continue to generate high interest among teacher applicants, there are fewer applicants for some openings than in past years.

The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education issued a teacher shortage report in December showing that of the 71,705 full-time teaching positions in the 2020-21 year, 5 percent were either vacant or filled by individuals who were not fully qualified.

The most challenging jobs to fill included special education, elementary education and middle and high school math.

"We still have some unfilled positions at this time," Mulford said.

In April, the state Board of Education picked members for a Teacher Recruitment and Retention Blue Ribbon Commission. Their goal is to recommend ways to better recruit and retain teachers.

Laura Mullins
Laura Mullins

"Careers in education are in a crisis. This can be seen by the mass of districts with hundreds of unfilled positions across the country and even within Missouri," said Laura Mullins, president of the Springfield National Education Association, which represents teachers and a handful of other employee groups at the bargaining table.

"I am thankful SPS is not facing a similar fate this year, although we will likely start the year with many support positions unfilled. I am hopeful that collective bargaining will make a difference for those positions, as well, now that we have organized those groups."

The new school year starts Aug. 22. Mulford said as the date grows closer, the greatest staffing need is not classroom teachers — although openings remain —  the high number of support positions that have not yet been filled.

More: In annual SPS address, Superintendent Grenita Lathan outlines plan for school year

Mulford said the district is feverishly working to hire bus drivers, paraprofessionals, food service and custodial employees.

"We should be close to what we need for the start of school," he said.

Paraprofessionals are teaching assistants who support the classroom and students, who they often work with in small groups or individually.

The district lost 86 of its 326 paraprofessionals last year. The turnover of 26 percent was higher than the 18 to 20 percent in a typical year.

"Having positions filled is not the only battle education faces. The bigger battle is to retain those teachers and staff members. This will be the real test of SPS," Mullins said. "It will be important for them to properly support their employees."

Mullins added: "Giving staff the ability to choose the learning they need and want for their own professional growth goals, support self-care by allowing them to use PTO without repercussions, respecting their family time by not asking them to work outside of their scheduled work day, and a genuine show of kindness and understanding from leaders while new staff undergoes the steep learning curve that education presents."

This week, the district hosted an induction ceremony for 350 teachers. Some were new to teaching. Others had teaching experience but were new to the district.

The 350 included the new hires for the upcoming year — regular classroom teachers as well as temporary jobs funded by federal relief funds — and teachers from last year who were hired after the 2021 induction ceremony.

Claudette Riley is the education reporter for the News-Leader. Email news tips to

This article originally appeared on Springfield News-Leader: 257 teachers exited Springfield schools last year, mostly resignations