Teacher retention rates– particularly in urban areas – are often unpredictable, with a 2015 study by the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Educational Statistics showing 17 percent of teachers with less than five-years of experience leave the field for good.

In Washington, D.C., the Washington Post reported on May 28, a loss of roughly 200 teachers systemwide during the 2016-17 schoolyear; with more than a quarter of the staff at Ward 8’s Ballou Senior High quitting before the last day of classes.

D.C. Councilmember Robert C. White, Jr. (D-At-large) called the teacher losses “an emergency” and penned a letter to David Grosso, the Council’s chair for the Committee on Education, asking that a full investigation be undertaken.

“Schools, like Ballou Senior High (Ballou), which has lost 21 teachers since September 2016, are not stable places for learning and growth for our students who have an urgent need for strong neighborhood schools,” White said in his letter.  “In letters to Chancellor Antwan Wilson, Ballou students wrote that they are in classrooms for months at a time without any instruction whatsoever.  This is a failure on the part of our city, and it sends a clear signal to these students that they are not valued.”

DCPS press secretary Michelle Lerner told WTOP, “It’s a challenge for school districts across the country when teachers leave mid-year, and D.C. Public Schools is working to ensure that all teachers feel supported and have the ability to hire high-quality teachers when positions become available.”

Teacher retention appears to be a problem across the city — Columbia Heights Education Campus in Northwest D.C. lost 11 teachers (10 percent of its faculty), H.D. Woodson High in Northeast lost 10 of its 50 teachers (or 20 percent).

White said that while rumors of poor teacher morale have remained relatively constant within DCPS, he was requesting “that the Committee invite Chancellor Wilson, affected students, and teachers who have resigned to testify at the hearing so that our committee can get a full understanding of the problem and work aggressively to find a solution.”

Rowan Langford, a former Ballou teacher who quit before the school year ended told WTOP on May 31 that she considered quitting just two months after being hired. She said her reasons included a lack of autonomy to create lesson plans, little control over her class, and little to no support from key administrators. Langford is reported as saying assistant principal Kimbria Jackson was “really, really honestly fantastic and she really wanted to help me.”  In that same article, Langford declined to speak about the management and support of Ballou’s principal Yetunde Reeves.

Ballou Senior High School principal Yetunde Reeves did not return requests for comment by press time.