Jasmine Thurmond is the principal of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Academy of Social Justice in the Englewood neighborhood on the city’s South side, and, in her first year, experienced three teachers who left in the middle of the school year.
King Academy is part of Chicago Public School’s Opportunity Schools program. The program began in 2016-2017 school year to recruit and retain support for schools with great staffing needs. Thurmond said she has been more intentional in implementing strategies to retain teachers. Part of that strategy involves talking to them mid-year when teacher burnout is more likely to occur.
“I make sure I check in with teachers [then],” she said. “What is going well; what things can improve quality of life.”
Thurmond said she has been very responsive to the teachers’ needs. In order to increase investment of each staff member on the team, all are expected to serve on at least one committee. Last year, only one teacher left mid-year, for personal reasons.
When Thurmond started at the school three years ago, the enrollment was 198. This year, they’re at 250. She said because it is a neighborhood school, the numbers tend to fluctuate. The school has retained five of their Opportunity Schools cohorts and they are going into their second and third year.
“We’ve been very intentional about providing support,” Thurmond said.
Teachers who are new to King and new to teaching are able to take part in a TLC program, which allows them space to be their authentic selves.
Alexandra Lloyd, the counselor at King Academy, got connected with the Opportunity Schools program at DePaul. She said she always knew she wanted to work in a school on the South or West side.
“I always felt like I had great support,” she said. “It is a program that really provides wraparound support.” Lloyd said there were also other people in the building who were in her same position, new to the school. She also saw other teachers who went through the program. She said it was really comforting to her.
“It helped me see there was a light on the other side. They got through it, so can I,” she said.
Lloyd said King is definitely an all hands-on deck school, with teachers, staff and students working in unison.
“We put a lot of emphasis on students’ voices. Give them the autonomy to make decisions,” she said. “It can make a teacher’s job easier.”
Thurmond said she tries to figure out incentives for the students to get them to come to school.
“We’ve been very intentional about making King a fun place to be; a fun place to come every day, whether you’re a student or staff,” she said. “When you can enjoy the place where you come and the people [you’re with]it makes it better.”