Reimagining Human Capital to Support the Needs of School Districts

Reimagining Human Capital Management in Today’s School Districts edLeader Panel recording screenshot

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Prior to the pandemic, many school districts were facing talent and recruitment challenges and were already engaged in strategic planning about how best to recruit and retain high-quality educators, administrators, and support staff for K-12 school districts.

The stresses created by the pandemic have exacerbated existing challenges. According to the National Center of Education Statistics report from January of 2022, 44% of public school districts reported having at least one teaching vacancy, with many reporting a much steeper vacancy count.

However, the vacancies are not just in the teacher corps, but also in administrations. Surveys conducted by the American Association of School Administrators (AASA) show that resignations and/or district changes among school superintendents have almost doubled from a year ago, going from 14% to 25%.

Finally, according to the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN), 31% of school district technology leaders plan to retire within the next five years, and more than 50% of IT departments are understaffed in their ability to provide remote support to families.

Strategies to reimagine human capital within the school system to support the overall goals of the district were the subject of the edLeader Panel, “Reimagining Human Capital Management in Today’s School Districts.” The panelists engaged in a discussion about how school districts can collaborate with education partners, community partners, and other internal administrators to build a strong and inviting district culture to attract the best talent to join their team.

Intentional Alignment to Competencies 

Multiple research studies demonstrate that having quality teachers in the classroom with students makes a difference. Research from the American Center for Progress reveals that Teacher Preparation Enrollment Programs declined by almost 44% from 2010-2018 with enrollment rates plunging from 940,520 to 604,264.

Pointing to this research, Tony Bagshaw, Chief Learning Officer of Battelle for Kids, said that the conversations that need to take place among stakeholder groups should center around the key competencies districts desire in teachers and administrative leaders. However, there are two main barriers to this work:  competency misalignment and a lack of systems thinking. 

The Portrait of a Graduate system was developed by Battelle for Kids to help districts think about and create an instructional vision for the district. What makes a quality educator or administrative leader? The same thing that makes a quality employee in any industry. According to Bagshaw, “good people systems” share four key components: 

  • Alignment with your needs/goals
  • Finding the right talent
  • Growing the talent
  • Retaining the talent 

Local and National Talent Sourcing

The goal of hiring and retaining quality people seems straightforward, yet, there are multiple factors to consider when evaluating candidates for hire within a district. From a local recruitment perspective, both Lori Ward, Chief Talent & Equity Officer for Cleveland Metropolitan School District (OH), and Jamie Wilson, Director of Human Resources for Reynoldsburg City School District (OH), discussed a greater need for school and district staff to reflect the demographic representation of the communities they serve.

For example, in Reynoldsburg City School District, the staff is 81% White, 13% African American, and 73% female. In contrast, the student body is 38% African American and 29% ELL (or representing other nationalities) with at least 64% being non-White. Demographic misalignment is just one example of the challenges in the human capital sector.

With the sourcing of IT jobs or positions that do not require an onsite employee, compensation challenges occur. Ward shared, “We’re finding one of the greatest challenges in sourcing at the IT positions because usually those positions demand market rates, and school districts are usually never in a position to pay those rates.” Trying to hire a systems engineer from a national source pool is an option but it requires a school district to redefine its compensation system to cast a wider net.

Even when districts can recruit people for operational positions, they often do not stay because of opportunities in more lucrative sectors. For Wilson, this presents a challenge to the district about how they “develop staff…and how we compensate.” One way that they have tackled this challenge in Reynoldsburg City School District is to intentionally develop a brand that creates a positive, inviting view of the district as a good place to work.

Branding Strategy  

There are two ways to approach branding when creating a branding strategy:

  1. Formal branding: The website is the front porch. It is the first thing that people will see.
  2. Informal branding: The connection between your current employees’ level of engagement and the district’s brand.

A district can create a welcoming website that is easy to navigate and provides a wealth of information, but if the employees are going to their kids’ local soccer field every Saturday and speaking ill of their experiences in the district, it hurts the brand and ultimately sabotages recruitment efforts. 

In the recruitment of IT and operational employees, branding efforts may look a little different. National recruitment of those people involves the ability to communicate a great work-life balance and being able to demonstrate what that looks like. By maintaining a commitment to teleworking, Ward says that this has provided a huge recruitment benefit for the Cleveland Metropolitan School District. 

Portrait of an Educator

Is it important to create a Portrait of an Educator, and what does this look like in practice? The short answer is yes, but the answer of what it looks like is debatable. Wilson shared that in her district they struggled to define what it means to have a highly qualified, diverse staff. As a result, they asked multiple stakeholder groups their definition of a highly qualified, diverse staff. Groups included members of their diversity task force, BLTs, leadership teams, and various departments.

Not surprisingly, they received an array of answers, which led them to intentionally create a Portrait of an Educator that aligned with the district’s needs and goals. Working with Battelle for Kids, they were able to utilize the Human Capital Framework they developed to create the Portrait of a Graduate, to create a Portrait of an Educator.

In Cleveland, they utilize a biannual workforce survey that is focused on equity and inclusion. One of the revelations from the survey was the need to invest in professional development, which needed to start at the leadership level. This led to the creation of an eight-part management learning series for chiefs and their management teams focused on building a more equitable and inclusive district.

Within that whole process, the district began to look at how to develop individual contributors to become managers of people with an eye on how to develop leadership skills. Additionally, according to Ward, “a new division was established, a division of organizational learning, [which] will be responsible for ensuring that each and every educator within CMSD is developed to reach his or her own potential.”

How to Start the Process

When creating a Portrait of an Educator, the best place to start with district’s instructional vision. The next step is to ask the right questions—Where are we strong? What are our challenge areas? These questions should help clarify what the district wants in an educator. Finally, assess the current system, which will allow the district to make rational judgements about next steps.

Building a Diverse, Equitable, and Inclusive Workforce

Based on research from Deloitte Insights, diverse teams make better decisions. In short, a more diverse and inclusive workforce is good for business. However, when speaking about diversity, it is important to note that diversity of thought is just as important as demographic diversity. The more ideas, the more voice, the more collaboration, the better. With that in mind, districts may want to consider the following when strategizing about how best to build a DEI workforce:

  • Review district data—staff, students, broader community—and then identify who wants to recruit into the district based on that data
  • Diversity includes a range of areas—age, gender, race, thought, etc.
  • Ensure that those you are recruiting embrace the importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion
  • Engage in the difficult conversations around the definition of DEI and work the school board to create policies around what this means and how it looks in your district
  • Differentiate between Organizational Equity and Educational Equity—the measures and metrics to measure each are very different

Finding the Right Partners

Finding the right partners can be a game changer. For Ward, being in Cleveland offers major benefits in the partnership department. They can call on key players in multiple areas of expertise, such as the Cleveland Clinic, PNC, and Key Bank.

She says, “We’ve got to think of partnerships outside of our vertical…you better have the best partners around you so that you can actually leverage the system to be more of a benefit for the enterprise, versus the traditional task processing that an HR department does.” Echoing that sentiment, other panelists shared that good partners should:

  • Provide outside ideas—an outside perspective
  • Provide additional horsepower
  • Serve as a stress test to the system
  • Help solve for resolutions
  • Have the capacity and capability to achieve on behalf of the district
  • Be a two-way street relationship 

Measuring Success in Human Capital Management

What does success in recruitment and retainment look like? Are there tools to help measure success? In Reynoldsburg, the district conducted Stay Interviews and then developed themes from those interviews.  They randomly selected a group of non-White staff and asked them a set of questions. From those questions, they identified themes that allowed them to pinpoint areas in need of improvement, such as emotional support, resources, and retainment efforts.

They want the staff to have a voice and to be heard. The overall goal for Reynoldsburg is to continue to move the needle forward by celebrating the achievements of staff through building quality partnerships. 

Currently, in Cleveland, the number-one metric they are tracking is 100% of school buildings staffed on the first day of school because they need to hire 200 teachers for the upcoming school year. Success means sourcing and recruiting to meet the needs as well as having a diversity measure. They also look at trajectory data to determine if their successes are appropriate.

Developing a strategy to put a quality teacher in every classroom and a quality leader in every building will drive student achievement, which is the ultimate measure of success for every school district.

Learn more about this edWeb broadcast, “Reimagining Human Capital Management in Today’s School Districts,” sponsored by ENA.

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Blog post by Ginny Kirkland based on this edLeader Panel