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Ector County ISD: Overcoming 350 Teacher Vacancies Through Coaching

10 min read
Nov 21, 2023 8:00:00 AM

Location: Odessa, Texas
Website: Ector County ISD
Enrollment: 33,600
Demographics: NCES Data
SchoolMint Grow user since 2019

The Challenge

With a diverse student population of 33,600 in 45 campuses spread across 902 square miles, Ector County Independent School District (ECISD) is the largest public school district in their region — and just a few years ago, that large size came with a Texas-sized problem: in 2019, on the first day of the new school year, ECISD faced 350 teacher vacancies.

“Students may have had a substitute. They may have had really large classes. But this is what we were dealing with,” explains Jaime Miller, Executive Director of Talent Development at ECISD. “No parent wants to come home and ask their kid, ‘Well, who was your teacher today? Who’s your teacher going to be tomorrow?’”

Students, teachers, and support staff faced massive disruptions. Parents were frustrated. And as the district was already contending with a district accountability rating of F in an area of Texas marked by a 67% poverty rate, Miller says, “We knew we had to do better.”

And almost as if by fate, it was that same school year a new superintendent came to town — a person with a vision for what ECISD could be for teachers and students alike.

The Solution

Superintendent Dr. Scott Muri encapsulates his leadership style in a famous quote: “Every organization is perfectly designed to achieve the results they are achieving.”

“Dr. Muri still says that to us today — that the results we’re getting are because we’re designed to get these results,” says Miller. “If we don’t change the design, we’re going to keep getting those results.”

When Dr. Muri arrived in ECISD, administrators were working on the district’s strategic plan for the year ahead. However, Dr. Muri, seeing where the district currently was and where he wanted it to be, recognized that if ECISD were to achieve the district’s vision, the district had to change its design.

That vision, Miller lays out, is their students. “We believe our students are the future. But to reach that, we have to have a high-quality teacher in every single classroom,” she says.

Under the new strategic plan, Dr. Muri’s first initiative was to establish ECISD’s first-ever Talent Development Department. Only with the proper supports in place could ECISD then tackle their most significant problem: those 350 teacher vacancies.

Implementing Talent Development

Before Dr. Muri, “Talent Development” at ECISD was a single person.

To begin tackling the district’s 350 teacher vacancies — ultimately, a symptom of a much larger retention problem — the new Talent Development Department worked with Dr. Muri on a variety of tasks. These initiatives ranged from placing high-performing principals in underperforming schools to staffing stipends and more. 

However, arguably the most notable changes under the new plan were the district’s investment into three major initiatives:

  • The Opportunity Culture initiative, which provides stipends to teachers to become team mentors and Multi-Classroom Leaders (MCLs).
  • The Teacher Incentive Allotment (TIA) initiative, which provides teachers a pathway to earn designations and achieve higher earnings.
  • The “Grow Your Own Pipelines” initiative, where Ector County boasts a variety of programs, pathways, and apprenticeships to cultivate more teachers.

“So the question was then, ‘How do we pull this all together?’ We have all of these pipelines, but how are we retaining people and getting them through those pipelines?” Miller asks. A huge part of that is Personalized Professional Learning (PPL). That means coaching, mentoring, and professional learning communities.

We have a coaching model, and we’ve built a culture of coaching within the district. But where does all that information live? Where is it stored? How do we ensure accountability? SchoolMint Grow.
jaime miller executive director of talent development ecisd
Jaime Miller

Executive Director of Talent Development, Ector County ISD

Implementing SchoolMint Grow

During the 2019–2020 school year, ECISD joined a cohort of other Texas districts to receive training from Relay — a nonprofit institution known for accelerating the growth of school leaders and teachers to improve their students’ academic outcomes.

ECISD had many of their principals and MCLs going through Relay’s training, and it was there the district learned about and was given access to SchoolMint Grow. 

“Having access to SchoolMint Grow through Relay showed us what we could do if we had a platform informing our decisions,” Miller says. “It brought everything together.”

At ECISD, she says, “We’re data-driven — but we’re student- and teacher-informed. We have to have a coaching platform, and the data SchoolMint Grow provides is the form of data districts need to see the way forward.”

Once the ECISD team was done with Relay’s training, Miller says, “We didn’t see how we would do without SchoolMint Grow. And so we got district approval for it, and every year, we’re gonna fight to keep it.”

Note: In the past, ECISD purchased SchoolMint Grow through ESSER funds. Miller expects to maintain the platform in the future through Title I funds. Title I funds, which are notoriously challenging to use, can be spent on SchoolMint Grow due to its impact on student learning and achievement.

Using SchoolMint Grow in ECISD

Mindy Rogers, ECISD’s Director of Talent Development Pipelines, describes how the district uses SchoolMint Grow to facilitate their coaching processes.

“Our district is a big fan of the running record,” she explains. “We use that frequently for observations in the classroom and for time stamping.”schoolmint grow running record feature

Above: SchoolMint Grow’s running record feature.

As Rogers further adds, there are numerous other features the district uses most for their coaching processes and to make their lives easier:

  • District-Specific Forms: “We appreciate the personalization SchoolMint Grow offers. We have an MCL rubric, where we hold MCLs accountable to their role as coaches, outside of themselves as classroom teachers. And principals have a different rubric they can use to support their MCLs.” This personalization allows each group to be supported in the way they need.
  • One Stop for All Coaching Cycle Documentation: “All of our MCLs, MTRTs, and instructional coaches document their coaching cycles in SchoolMint Grow.” Coaches, mentors, school admin, different departments — everybody is in one spot.
  • Quick Feedback: “We use quick feedback frequently, especially when we’re starting out and getting everyone used to Glows and Grows.” This feature is great for warming teachers up to feedback and building a culture of coaching.
  • Sentence Stems: “We use the See It, Name It, Do It coaching observation piece for coaching scripting.” SchoolMint Grow builds in sentence stems so leaders don’t need to memorize every piece of the ECISD coaching model; it’s all embedded in the platform.
  • File Upload: “We use the file upload feature frequently for PLC documentation. Coaches can upload PowerPoint presentations or any DDI backward planning documentation that the Curriculum and Instruction Department or principal might want.”
  • Absence Tracking in Meetings: “You can mark absenteeism and see who attended and who didn’t. We can see what barriers might be in place for that coaching cycle — such as if their team teacher doesn’t show up or if they’re pulled to do something else on the campus — document that, and add in comments.”
  • Coaching the Coaches: “Even if we’re not on campus with an MCL, we can go into SchoolMint Grow, look at an observation, and give the MCL feedback. Just as they’re giving their team teachers action steps, I’m giving them action steps for their own role.”
  • Analytics: SchoolMint Grow’s analytics ensure coaching is actually happening across ECISD, which supports their accountability focus. The analytics also identify gaps in instruction, areas of transferable success, and if teachers are progressing to more rigorous instructional strategies.

Note: the above quotes from Mindy Rogers were obtained during an interview conducted in October 2023. Rogers has since departed ECISD.

The Results

ECISD’s establishment of a robust coaching and professional development program has paid dividends for the district. Through their focused efforts on teacher growth and retention, ECISD has witnessed a remarkable transformation since Fall 2019:

  • Reducing teacher vacancies from a staggering 350 to a manageable 36 — a 90% decrease in vacant teacher positions
  • Achieving major NWEA MAP Growth
  • Improving their district’s TEA Accountability Rating from an F (2019–2020) to a C (2020–2021) to a B (2022–2023)
  • Earning 258 teacher designations through the TIA, equating to $2,400,000 in incentive pay for those teachers
In ECISD, our vision is clear, student success is our future, and to achieve that, we must invest in high-quality teaching. Through a robust coaching culture, personalized professional learning, and SchoolMint Grow, we’ve transformed teacher retention, reduced vacancies, and improved student outcomes. Our commitment to ensuring every student has a high-quality teacher is unwavering; SchoolMint is not just a tool, it is the coaching accountability piece that aids in the success of our district.
dr scott muri with ecisd
Dr. Scott Muri

Superintendent, Ector County ISD

1. Improving Teacher Retention Through Coaching

Speaking on their efforts to improve teacher retention at ECISD as well as reduce vacancies, Miller explains, “Dr. Muri often talks about what makes teachers want to stay. And yes, we can offer money. We can give stipends. We can do all that.

“But if teachers aren’t successful in the classroom, if their students aren’t successful in the classroom, they’re not going to stay. And we live in a place where oil and gas pay very well. So how we retain teachers is through coaching.

“By documenting that coaching — having accountability, helping them move forward, and having them see their growth and action steps within SchoolMint Grow — they can look at their PLCs and see where they’ve come in the data-driven instruction process.”

2. Gaining Shared Visibility Into Classrooms

Speaking on how SchoolMint Grow has provided ECISD with visibility across the district, Miller says, “I was a campus principal. From that perspective, something huge about SchoolMint Grow is how easily you can look things up. I can see what one of my teachers is being coached on, what feedback they’ve been given, and what their barriers are — all before I walk into that classroom.

“To see those action steps beforehand makes the biggest difference. We can be sure we’re not giving too many action steps to a teacher, and everyone, even the people working in administration, can see what people are working on and have perspective before we walk into a classroom.”

3. Increasing Transparency Across Departments

From the administrative office to each of ECISD’s 45 campuses, SchoolMint Grow has given the district a level of coordination that would be impossible without a centralized platform. Miller emphasized this was a crucial shift, as the district previously operated in silos:

“There’s people from multiple groups on our campuses at a given time. There’s people working with MCLs, people working with teachers, and people helping with coaching. For example, we have a separate team that handles curriculum and instruction coaching — just like we have a bilingual team that goes onto campuses and helps with coaching. With SchoolMint Grow, everybody can see what’s going on at a particular campus.”

It’s been a huge win for the district, she notes, because, “Before SchoolMint Grow, it was like, ‘Well, the Curriculum and Instruction Department will give them this action step. Next, Talent Development will give them this action step. And then the principal will give them another action step.’ When a teacher is receiving multiple action steps they can’t meet, does that make them want to stay in a classroom?”

SchoolMint Grow has helped eliminate these silos, and now all of the district’s coaching groups are on the platform — speaking to each other, holding each other accountable, and collaborating to fulfill the district’s vision.

Miller says, “I would tell any district this: anybody who’s going onto a campus and working with teachers needs to be on the platform. If only one department has access, it’s not going to work.”

4. Creating a Culture of Coaching

On the subject of how teachers in ECISD feel about coaching, Miller’s face lights up with excitement. “We’re working on TIA right now, and it’s going to be amazing. We’re very excited for those report cards to go out,” she says.

“I know teachers now want to be coached; they want to grow. But it’s not just for TIA. We have set a culture that our students have to grow — because they deserve this.”

And so the question becomes what do we have to do in SchoolMint Grow to ensure our kids graduate?
jaime miller executive director of talent development ecisd
Jaime Miller

Executive Director of Talent Development, Ector County ISD

“Everything we do goes back to coaching,” she adds. “How do we ensure every student, every day, has a high-quality teacher? Because we’re not going to do that with 350 vacancies. We’re going to do that by having those high-quality teachers in front of us, in front of every student.

“Without SchoolMint Grow, without the accountability it provides, this work wouldn’t be possible. You have to have it pulled together. There would be no way, especially with a district of our size, to maintain that.”

Continued Commitment to SchoolMint Grow

As ECISD continues their journey toward further growing their educators and improving student outcomes, the district remains committed to SchoolMint Grow as a central piece of their coaching culture and success.

“SchoolMint Grow can be used in so many ways that’ll help your district improve. In fact, I had the opportunity to listen to another district talking about a platform they use for the same purpose as SchoolMint Grow — but it didn’t have all the same features as Grow,” Miller says.

“I was like, you know, it’s not going to give you the results you need to make that huge growth of the district. SchoolMint Grow has the features you need to pull data and move forward.”

And with a sly smile, she adds, “I can’t imagine going back to not having SchoolMint Grow. If I ever moved to another district and they didn’t use Grow, I’d tell myself, ‘Oh, no. You’ll have to go back.’”

Interested in learning how SchoolMint Grow can support teacher retention in your district?

The best way to learn how SchoolMint Grow can boost teacher retention is to see it in action for yourself.

We invite you to schedule a free personalized demo with one of our friendly coaching experts.

Discover how the platform can be customized to fit your district’s needs, foster a culture of coaching that drives teaching excellence in your schools, and, ultimately, support your journey toward improved teacher retention and student success!

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