Case Studies: How Managing School Talent, Staffing Can Improve Student Outcomes

Thomas: Lessons from Charlotte, Cincinnati and Georgia yield 5 strategies for reimagining human resources practices to help kids succeed

Photo by Allison Shelley for EDUimages

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Recent National Assessment of Educational Progress results detail the negative impact of closing schools due to the pandemic. This aligns to research showing that the effectiveness of the classroom teacher is pivotal to improving student outcomes. The unprecedented influx of pandemic and Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds for school district recovery offers an opportunity to reimagine how to ensure the most effective teachers choose to work in the most high-need schools. 

At the University of Virginia’s Partnership for Leaders in Education (UVA-PLE) Program, where I was the chief support officer, talent management was one of four core levers to create district conditions for schools to significantly improve. Our approach, which the Rand Corp. identified as having significant evidence of impact on school performance, suggests that our focus on increasing the number of highly effective teachers in schools was critical.

As districts prepare for 2023-24 staffing, here are five strategies that should be explored as a part of reimagining human resources practices and approaches to improving student outcomes — especially for underserved children.

Implement a strategic staffing approach like Opportunity Culture. Opportunity Culture, developed by the nonprofit Public Impact, was launched in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools in 2012 as part of the district’s turnaround initiative, Project L.I.F.T. This approach includes several innovative models, such as multi-classroom leaders, in which teachers who have had success with improving student performance lead a small team of educators for substantially higher pay. The leader teaches students for a portion of each day; guides lesson planning, data analysis, instructional changes and small-group tutoring assignments; coaches and works directly with team members in the classroom; and models great teaching. Among the results:

  • Graduation rate increased from 54% to 86%, reducing the gap between the 10 L.I.F.T. schools and the district overall from 20 percentage points to less than 5.
  • Student growth goals in L.I.F.T. schools were met or exceeded 80% of the time, a rate equal to the district’s average and higher than the state’s.
  • 94% teacher retention. After Opportunity Culture was implemented, the number of teacher vacancies dropped from 300 at the start of the school year to five.

Leverage a housing concierge concept. At UVA, our program was anchored by a partnership between the Curry School of Education and the Darden Business School. We encouraged districts to consider adopting a concierge approach, as the business sector does, to smooth the way for new staff trying to settle into a new district or city — by helping to arrange housing, register for utilities and cable, and identify options for day care and banking.

Develop lead teachers. When I was chief innovation officer for Cincinnati Public Schools, it earned the distinction as the state’s top-performing urban district, with a “B” report card rating, in part because of its career ladder for educators. The model provides stipends to teachers who go through a credentialing process, which involves earning excellent evaluations and undergoing advanced training. Underperforming schools can select these highly trained educators to work in classrooms and be teacher leaders in their building.

Provide recruitment and retention stipends. As chief turnaround officer (deputy superintendent) for the Georgia State Board of Education, I partnered with the state’s General Assembly to create a pilot program that would give chronically underperforming schools $5,000 per teacher from the state to recruit and retain highly effective educators. Teachers would receive ongoing training to benefit both their students and the school overall. Each school could receive funds for up to five teachers. To ensure some skin in the game, the legislation required each district to contribute $2,500 per teacher, meaning participating educators could receive an extra $7,500 per year. A slightly amended approach was signed into law.

Recruit talent early, as major college athletic programs do. Major college football and basketball programs identify potential student-athletes as early as possible — sometimes even in elementary school — and do recruitment and outreach until these kids accept a scholarship. Using that model, districts can use in-classroom training, student teaching and other opportunities to build early relationships with college students. This could connect to a district’s Grow Your Own Program that guides graduating seniors into the teaching field in hopes they will come back to teach in a local school.

These strategies alone will not provide marginalized students with the conditions and support they need. And, of course, no two districts or communities are exactly alike. But as leaders determine their own talent strategies, reimagining talent practices should be an important part of any broad transformation effort.

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