Retaining Great Teachers, Improving Instruction: Chinle’s New Principal Induction Program

David Moore, Principal at Many Farms Public School with student. Photo Credit: Chinle Unified School District

Chinle (Chʼínílį́) Unified School District (CUSD) is located in the heart of the Navajo Nation and land of the Diné, or Navajo people. With 4000 students, 99% of whom are Diné, Chinle is the largest school district in the Navajo Nation. However, as previously one of the lowest performing districts in Arizona, CUSD found it increasingly difficult to retain teachers over the long-term.

By 2015/16, the district’s three-year teacher attrition rate had reached 68% overall. Even more troubling, CUSD struggled to fill teacher vacancies with fully qualified teachers. In 2015/16, nearly 80% of teacher vacancies were filled by teachers with an emergency certification—a certification that expired within 3 years—further contributing to teacher attrition.

As part of their Talent for Turnaround Leadership Academy (T4TLA) project, the Arizona Department of Education (ADE) and CUSD leaders gathered data and used root-cause analysis to examine what factors were contributing to this downward trend in teacher retention at CUSD. Although CUSD had initially identified the need for a high-quality teacher induction and mentoring program, through T4TLA, the leadership team realized that to have a lasting effect on teacher retention (as well as student achievement), providing comprehensive supports to school principals had to be part of the solution.

Together, West Comprehensive Center, the Center on Great Teachers and Leaders, the State Support Network, ADE, and other partners worked with CUSD to implement a new Principal Induction Program to strengthen the quality and effectiveness of the district’s principals, and in turn, affect the recruitment, development, and retention of effective teachers.

The Principal Induction Program includes extended professional development opportunities, professional learning communities, training, and one-on-one coaching and mentoring focused on turnaround leader competencies identified in the professional learning module, Recruit, Retain, Support: Turnaround Leadership Competencies.

CUSD school principals participating in the program have adopted a variety of new practices and approaches to use in leading their schools, including

  • Implementing data-driven instructional processes and protocols.
  • Using improved teacher observation and feedback schedules to maximize scarce time.
  • Using data from ValEd and teacher engagement surveys to identify actions steps for building a culture of learning in their buildings.
  • Leading grade-level team data meetings, and
  • Using instructional rounds to help refine and improve instruction.

Six of the seven principals participating in the Principal Induction Program were retained as school principals in the district for 2018/19 school year. CUSD will be examining their teacher retention data in 2018/19 to assess program effectiveness. Visit the T4TLA StoryMap for the latest updates on Chinle’s T4TLA project.

Insights From CUSD Principals

“The system I have developed [through the program] to regularly monitor teacher performance on key indicators and encourage teachers to strive for higher student performance has been invaluable. Having a solid structure for data talks in small groups, combined with regular, supportive, and non-threatening coaching of new teachers and Tier III teachers, seems to be moving us into new levels of discussion, motivation and staff engagement that didn’t exist previously.” Dr. Stephen Sorden, principal of Tsaile Public School

“From the support of and collaboration from [the program], I have been able to develop others on my leadership team to take on larger roles and responsibilities within the school. This has allowed me time to perform more walk-throughs, attend more data meetings, and overall focus my attention on the factors that impact student learning.” Clete Hargrave, Principal, Chinle High School

For more information about this project, please contact Karen Butterfield (

Interested in exploring more T4TLA state projects? Visit our StoryMap and flip through to view the latest on each state’s work.