HOUSTON -- It’s back to school time, but will your child be losing their teacher?
The I-Team has learned several hundred Houston Independent School District teachers have quit their jobs so far this year.
Jacob Santillan is one of them. The U.S. Army veteran isn’t afraid of a fight, having been deployed to Iraq for a year.
“I don’t like to quit. I hate to quit,” Santillan said.
But the former soldier is walking away from a battle he says just isn’t worth it -- trying to teach at a Houston middle school.
"I would rather go back to active duty military service to be shot at then to set one foot in another public school classroom," he said.
It's a bombshell that Santillan fired off in his resignation letter after just one semester at HISD.
"You are going to continue to abuse, burn out and run off those people who are on the front lines in the classroom,” Santillan said.
And just how many are running off? At least 300 teachers so far in 2013, compared to 234 this time last year, according to HISD.
That's a 28 percent increase.
"In my 30 years, I've never seen anything like this," said Gayle Fallon, president of the Houston Federation of Teachers, the local union.
“Just quit. Not retired, not fired, quit,” Fallon said.
So, the question is why?
"One of them told us 'I'm not going back to a place I dread,’” Fallon said.
Teachers' e-mails and phone calls to their office complain of "bullying" and "intimidation" by principals.
"They feel so frustrated, they feel so, unhappy and mistreated," said HFT Grievance Officer Joanna Pasternak.
But if you ask HISD, the district said it’s not surprised by the numbers. It claims they're the result of a tighter leash on teachers.
“We are holding teachers accountable,” said HISD Spokesman Jason Spencer. “We knew we had to ratchet things up."
HISD recently launched a new teacher appraisal system, claiming to put a tighter leash on poor performing teachers.
"Principals and assistant principals are having tough conversations with teachers who are not making the progress parents expect them to make, and those conversations are not comfortable,” Spencer said.
But often, those conversations are over the top, according to the union. It calls the new system subjective and unfair, unlike the evaluation criteria established by the State of Texas, and used in many other school districts.
"On the state evaluation, if I'm going to give you a low evaluation score, it's got to be on something I observed,” Fallon said.
“This is 'I feel, I think,’" she added.
The I-Team found it's not just rookies, but also a lot of experienced teachers going out the door. More than a quarter of those who resigned had ten years or more on the job.
"Walking off and saying 'I never want to teach again, anywhere.’” Pasternak said.
Teachers like Jacob Santillan, who said he’s leaving education for good. He’s going back to a battlefield he understands -- enlisting in the military again.
"Get out, get out of education while you still can," Santillan said.
The Houston Federation of Teachers union also said the resignations do not account for the number of teachers who’ve retired so far this year. But HISD said even with those, the numbers of educator’s leaving the classroom represent less than one percent of all teachers in the district.