The usual stuff of most HR officers, processing people on and off the payroll and benefits package, is the least of Janis Perrault’s worries in the biggest and most urbanized district in the state.
She is the Chief Human Resources Officer for Oklahoma City Public Schools.
The real heavy lifting comes with trying to recruit and then retain teachers and principals passionate, well-trained and talented enough to stand up to the unique challenges they face in OKCPS.
But she is getting some help from a consulting firm based in Boston called Urban Schools Human Capitol Academy.
One of the partners in the consulting firm, Craig Chin, is in Oklahoma City to report some of his early findings to the OKCPS Board of Education in a special meeting Tuesday devoted to that report and discussion about the findings.
According to Perrault, the Inasmuch Foundation has given a $150,000 grant to the district to pay for the first year of what could turn into a three-year consultancy.
The district will have to apply each year for the next two to keep the three-year grant in place.
The discussion first centered on the sticking points the consultant found in the process, the biggest being how cumbersome the application process has become for applicants.
“The hiring process is overladen with manually intensive steps and inefficiency which can also adversely affect hiring efforts,” Chin said.
The firm is working with the department to give the department ideas and tools on how to sort out the years of layered processes that bog down bringing in and then onboarding new hires.
It’s a special challenge when Oklahoma has handed out a record number of emergency certifications this year.
People with a bachelor’s degree can get an emergency certification without taking a certification exam.
Then, they take training in best education practices throughout their first year. They are expected to continue on to achieving a full certification.
Increased dependence on emergency certifications is because education degree graduates and experienced teachers are leaving the state for surrounding states in high numbers because of better pay and respect.
The most discussion though was on how principals are the key to the effectiveness of each school in the district.
“Best principals are the ones who work to keep, hire and retain their best teachers,” said Superintendent Aurora Lora.
Since principals are key players at the intersection of recruitment and retention, how the human resource department gets the new hire to the principal is a key element to retention.
The consulting firm is working with Perrault to streamline the process.
No matter where the conversation went about retention, the discussion came back to principals who lead effectively.
Board member Rebecca Budd voiced her perception that schools from the most stable neighborhoods were luring the best teachers to transfer away from “high-needs schools” and thereby undermining efforts to build up ailing schools.
But Lora responded that transfers aren’t the problem as much as principals who lose teachers from ineffective leadership.
“People aren’t running away from great principals just to teach in a different neighborhood,” Lora said.