The ‘Jefferson experience’ — Creating a culture that fosters educator effectiveness and student performance

‘We are wholly committed to helping every child reach their potential’

Jefferson County SchoolsEducational barriers and challenges often vary by region, yet at districts where odds seem disproportionately stacked against student success — such as Jefferson County Schools (JCS) in rural West Virginia — school leaders know that delivering excellence in education requires vision, strategy and, sometimes, complete process overhaul.

“Our area of the country has the highest percentage per population of opioid addiction in the country, so a lot of our students come to us with high ACE — Adverse Childhood Experience — scores,” said Bondy Shay Gibson, Ed.D., superintendent at JCS. “We are wholly committed to helping every child reach their potential and recognize that this can only be accomplished through relationships and connections with our staff.”

In response the needs of the students in Jefferson, JCS is pursuing an excellence-in-education initiative. The initiative focuses on comprehensive overhaul of systems that contribute to student achievement, with individual teams led by assistant superintendents, the chief financial officer, the director of pupil services and the chief human resources officer — Joseph Pettiford— who is responsible for implementing hiring, onboarding, management, evaluation and professional learning processes designed to empower educator effectiveness and student performance.

“Bondy is a phenomenal leader. She brought a brand-new strategic approach to delivering education,” Joseph said. “The Jefferson leadership team’s approach is nestled within the superintendent’s vision, and that has really driven our direction.”

The goal of the talent management portion of the excellence-in-education initiative is to create the “Jefferson experience” — positive applicant, new hire and employee interactions that improve job satisfaction and instructional effectiveness — which starts with hiring.

High-impact hiring

As Joseph began transforming recruitment and hiring processes, he realized the district already had access to a tool that — when used properly — could spur significant improvements.

“The best thing to do when you’re looking for strategic improvement opportunities is to look at what you have and ask yourself if you’re using it to the fullest extent,” Joseph said. “Based on that, I immediately said, ‘We have a great tool here in Hire Enterprise. Let’s explore this further.’”

Hire Enterprise — TalentEd’s K-12 education-specific applicant tracking system — delivered on the three capabilities he deemed most important: integration, scalability and reliability.

But he quickly realized that TalentEd provided other avenues to make life easier for both applicants and hiring managers.

“We operate at the speed of life in a school system,” Joseph said. “A typical building administrator or principal is really a CEO. They have so many things on their plates, the only time they really have the opportunity to go through all their resumes is at night or on the weekends.”

Hire Enterprise’s anytime, anywhere accessibility and intuitive, user-friendly features for large districts make it convenient to review applications at home, school or elsewhere. Yet for positions that receive many qualified applicants, this review process can be very time-consuming, making it difficult to maintain objectivity. But, as Joseph said, “we have a better way, and thank God for that.”

The “better way” is made possible when Hire Enterprise is paired with the Educators Professional Inventory (EPI) — a predictive analytics tool that allows district leaders to objectively assess the future impact of candidates and provides a roadmap for their professional learning.

“Now, we can very quickly identify top candidates based on impact, performance and opportunity,” Joseph explained. “The idea is that hiring stronger teachers will impact student achievement. You can’t just hire people because of their educational background. You have to make sure you’re hiring candidates who can contribute to a collaborative, collegial environment.”

Bondy agreed.

“It’s a matter of fit,” she said. “One of the reasons we began this initiative with TalentEd’s Hire Enterprise and EPI was to identify individuals who had the skillset to be successful and the enthusiasm and willingness to learn.”

“One of the reasons we began this initiative with TalentEd’s Hire Enterprise and EPI was to identify individuals who had the skillset to be successful and the enthusiasm and willingness to learn.”

Creating a roadmap for success

Bondy is quick to point out that at JCS, the EPI is not a conventional screening tool.

“We don’t see it as a way to say, ‘Look, you need a nine and you got a seven. So sorry. Good luck with that job search.’ We don’t employ that strategy with kids, so we don’t employ it with adults,” she explained. “Our strategy is to meet people where they are and help them fulfill their potential.”

Using the EPI’s Professional Development Profile (PDP) — an 18-page report that identifies candidates’ strengths and opportunities for growth, along with a template for preparing a personalized professional development plan — JCS drives impactful professional learning starting on day one.

“Now, a principal or building leader can sit down with a new teacher and say, ‘Let’s map this out now that we’ve got a plan, and let’s talk about how we’re going to invest in you and help you grow,’” Joseph said. “That’s something we didn’t have before, and it allows us to engage with new hires on a much higher level.”

Shaping the future of hiring

The value of using personalized data to transform hiring truly takes shape when considering the long-term benefits: the EPI doesn’t only improve hiring today, it will improve the quality of candidate pools far into the future.

“Ultimately, this will help us develop better marketing,” Joseph explained. “We’ll look at statistics for where our best applicants are coming from and know where to target our marketing dollars so we’re not just throwing something against the wall and hoping it sticks.”

Bondy expects this approach to generate quick and lasting improvements.

“It’s a very, very forward-thinking idea,” she said. “Our time and resources are precious, and we’ll focus on where we find the best, highest performing applicants.”

JCS leaders also plan to use EPI data to empower students at the higher education level. The district has partnered with a local university to attract recent graduates and plans to share insights gained from the EPI to help the university better prepare students pursuing careers in education.

“We can impart some of the high-level findings with the university and say, ‘Here are some of the opportunities that your faculty can tackle and here are some of the areas where we’re seeing very strong attributes from your students that you may want to promote,’” he said.

“Ultimately, this will help us develop better marketing. We’ll look at statistics for where our best applicants are coming from and know where to target our marketing dollars so we’re not just throwing something against the wall and hoping it sticks.”

A better environment for new hires
and seasoned veterans

The Jefferson experience also extends to the onboarding process.

“We want to shift the paradigm of what usually happens in school systems where people just get hired, receive an employee ID number and we hope they figure it out,” Joseph said.

Using Records— TalentEd’s recordkeeping and processes management solution — JCS delivers a much more engaging, positive new hire experience.

“Onboarding shouldn’t be painful. We want to create a situation where people say, ‘Wow! I can’t believe how easy that was!’” Joseph said. “Once people experience that, they’ll share that experience with other people. They’ll go out and talk about our vision and our mission, which will attract strong candidates to our district.”

And employees experience the benefits of Records long after onboarding.

“Employees can go to one site and look up their employee file. If they need to access information about benefits or update their W-4, all they have to do is click on the link we set up for them and log in,” Joseph said. “It’s a beautiful thing.”

Joseph says Records also created a better work environment for him.

“I can’t tell you the difference it’s made. Before, when I would walk into my office, I had walls — I mean, literally, walls — lined with filing cabinets. And we had file rooms with paper sticking out of boxes and files,” he said. “Now, we have none of that. By the end of the school year, we will have digitized over 1.7 million pages, and we’ll have them available online in Records.”

“Employees can go to one site and look up their employee file. If they need to access information about benefits or update their W-4, all they have to do is click on the link we set up for them and log in. It’s a beautiful thing.”

A performance evaluation process that’s
more than satisfactory

A key part of developing a positive employee experience is finding the best way to manage a mandated process that’s often unpopular: performance evaluations.

JCS uses Perform— TalentEd’s performance management solution — to streamline the evaluation of service employees and identify opportunities for professional learning.

“We are the first in the state of West Virginia to roll out this scientific tool, and we’re very proud of that,” Joseph said. “It’s made our service personnel performance evaluations electronic, and that is a great help.

“We’re no longer waiting months for performance evaluations to get checked off with paper, bundled, put in the inter-office mail or dropped off and mailed back to us two or three months later,” Joseph said. “Now, we’re able to deploy instantaneously. On a daily basis we can see the status of where we are and what remains to be completed.”

Creating the right culture

Simplifying performance management, recordkeeping, onboarding and hiring processes is part of JCS’ overall strategy to empower employees to make an impact at a personal level.

“Some people dislike or fear automation because they think it depersonalizes things,” Bondy explained. “Joseph is focused on how automating repetitive functions actually allows you to interact with each other. Your staff has more time to answer phone calls. When someone stops by the office unexpectedly because they’re worried about retirement or their job in general, you can take the time to have a conversation. In essence, it helps you personalize the experience more.”

Creating that personal experience and nurturing a culture of individual empowerment contributes to employee retention and supports student achievement.

“Every piece of research we looked at said that while salary is a significant factor in attracting someone to an organization, keeping them there is a matter of culture,” Bondy said.

“It’s about developing an atmosphere of performance,” Joseph added. “And ultimately, it’s about seeing better measurements from the students, as well.”

And he’s not just talking about standardized test scores.

“We look at a number of things to identify student success,” Bondy explained. “We look for participation in extracurricular activities. Students who have a well-rounded experience are more likely to be well-rounded citizens when they leave here. We also look at absenteeism rates. Kids who enjoy their school experience come to school. And we look at discipline rates. Students who have good relationships with their teachers have less conflict.”

Joseph understands the importance of that goal, and knows it takes patience, perseverance and strong partnerships to achieve.

“It takes time to evolve, but that’s what we’re moving to,” he said. “And we see TalentEd as part of that strategic partnership to help us move in that direction because we have more tools at our fingertips. And the opportunities to network and learn — through the TalentEdge customer conference, the webinars and everything else — that’s where the collaboration comes in. That’s where you get great ideas for how to advance.”

“We’re no longer waiting months for performance evaluations to get checked off with paper, bundled, put in the inter-office mail or dropped off and mailed back to us two or three months later. Now, we’re able to deploy instantaneously. On a daily basis we can see the status of where we are and what remains to be completed.”

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2018-04-25T09:55:15+00:00
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