Frisco ISD fast-tracks teacher hiring with electronic onboarding

A few years ago, hiring a new teacher or professional employee took weeks for Frisco ISD’s HR Department.
It most often worked like this: A principal would send a hiring recommendation to HR. HR would check State Board for Educator Certification files for the appropriate certification, fill out a required NCLB form, and send files to get the process of fingerprinting the candidate underway. Once the fingerprinting process (which involves several steps) was completed, candidate certification was rechecked, and the candidate was officially hired by HR and scheduled to attend one of several three-hour orientation sessions.
HR would then begin setting up an employee file that would be shared by Finance and other district departments. When principals wanted to know where a candidate was in the hiring process, someone from HR would have the unenviable task of tracking the folder down. There was nothing efficient about the process, from the many paper forms candidates had to fill out and return to HR for data entry, printing, copying, and storage of all that data. At one point, HR tracked a candidate folder and observed that there were 350 steps involved to get one person hired.
Principals, candidates, and HR department staffers were united in their frustration with the process. Sound familiar?

Seeing the need

Frisco ISD is a fast-growth district, hiring between 400 to 600 new employees each year. Linda Bass was the district’s assistant superintendent of HR until her retirement in 2014. She said that the old employee orientation session fell short for HR because so many new employees were in each orientation session that there was little to no opportunity for one-on-one interaction. “It was not aligned with the philosophy of the district and how we want everyone to be treated,” Bass said.
Not only that, but through the year, HR would invariably field many questions on material that had been covered during orientation. Bass thought that an online process might do a better job in terms of teaching employees how to find and access information they might need in the future.
With the help of Melissa Fouche, the district’s technology director, and Bob Allen, Frisco ISD director of applications and processing, HR decided to make major advances on two fronts: moving to fully electronic employee records and making employee onboarding a mostly online activity.
Allen, a 30-year veteran of corporate IT, specialized in helping companies reengineer their processes. Bass was one of the first to seek him out to help her department, though she confesses that she was a bit of a heel-dragger at the thought of moving to fully electronic employee records (electronic content management, or ECM). “I talked to other districts that had started moving their electronic files and had been working on it for years and still weren’t done,” Bass said.
IT’s work on both pieces began in fall of 2012, with the intent to use the new onboarding system for the 2013‒14 hiring season. That gave IT six months to have it ready to go.
Allen formed a team that included principals and other stakeholders to reengineer the onboarding process. Their job was to determine where time was being wasted or effort duplicated to determine what the new process should look like.
The resulting goals were many:
  • To move most orientation activities online
  • Put forms online so new hires could fill them out, sign them, and submit them in a matter of minutes
  • Create an online spreadsheet for HR generated by the new hire
  • Automate communication with all stakeholders throughout the process
  • Ensure that all departments have access to the employee file at the same time

Getting started

The process of making the switch involved many steps—more than we can capture here—in part because the district wanted to customize its process. Rather than choosing off-the-shelf products, Frisco ISD chose a software platform that offered a document imaging system, workflow capability, and a robust ability to build forms. The IT department implemented that tool as the basis for ECM and the onboarding system.
IT started by automating the district’s employment contracts. Then they began looking at ways to automate HR activities and created a position inventory platform. In order to work seamlessly, the onboarding system had to be integrated with other district software systems (student and finance, to name a couple).
The system was designed with data integrity in mind for each department that needed access to the employee’s file: each new hire enters his or her own information and it is made available to each department that needs it. It’s not rekeyed by each department in the district, as it would have been in the past, saving district time and ensuring the accuracy of the information. “[The change] allows processors to focus on the value-added piece of their job rather than just shuffling paper around,” Allen said.

Up and running

ECM and the onboarding system were both used for the 2013‒14 hiring season. ECM now includes the records of more than 6,000 employees. Electronic onboarding is in full swing as well, with the district adding auxiliary employees to mix for the 2015‒16 school year.
Now, instead of sitting through a lengthy, impersonal orientation meeting and filling out a mountain of paperwork, new hires get an e-mail from HR to their district e-mail account, which is established almost immediately, allowing them to do their paperwork online.
Once they’ve completed that task, HR sends a link to the online employee orientation. New hires advance through a variety of topics, from a welcome message from Superintendent Jeremy Lyon to human resources policies and guidelines, professional development, benefits, and payroll. They are instructed to view each section in its entirety in order to advance to the next topic.
Most complete the online orientation process in two hours or less. They are then prompted to choose a time to come in for a short (30 minutes to an hour) face-to-face orientation meeting, the final step in Frisco ISD’s new orientation process. That’s when they bring in their critical documents (their Social Security card, driver’s license, official college transcripts, and service records, if applicable) get answers to their questions, and get contact information for the HR specialist assigned to their campus.

Meeting district, employee needs

“The first thing that we learned was that teachers thought the new onboarding process was great,” said Pam Linton, Frisco ISD’s current assistant superintendent of HR. “They had both the information they need and the personal connection.”
Linton notes that the onboarding system fits the preferences of typical new hires—often young teachers. “When we look at the majority of people that we’re hiring, they are so accustomed to doing everything with technology that this is a great tool for them,” Linton said. “It’s much less frustrating than having to sit through a long orientation.”
The other advantage is that new hires can complete the orientation whenever they want and schedule their face-to-face follow up at their convenience. “They liked that they had options in scheduling,” Linton said.
Principals are also enjoying the new onboarding process, particularly because they are consistently notified about where their applicants are in the hiring process. There’s no more calling to check on new hires and waiting for someone to track down their file.
Bass said that the ECM system is a huge advance for HR, since they can pull up any record needed at any point in time and have access to the specific information they need online. She may have balked at first, but became the system’s biggest cheerleader.
Allen believes that reengineering processes across the district is helping it avoid costs of more than $1 million per year. He used HR Department staffing as an example. “[The HR] staffing level is the same as it was two or three years ago, and we’ve added 25 percent more campuses,” Allen said. “We save money on paper, filing, toner, paper, and filing cabinets. We’ve expanded the capacity of HR.”
From the perspective of building relationships with employees, Bass thinks the electronic onboarding system is the more important piece. “We’re a big district, but we like to think of ourselves as being like a small town,” Bass said. “From an HR perspective, the system has a personal touch even though it’s largely electronic.”

Sharing the details

Allen is getting calls from districts near and far based on Frisco ISD’s success in developing and implementing the electronic systems. He says any district can do what Frisco has done, large or small. Less expensive versions of the system he used are available, and districts don’t have to take on as much as Frisco did initially. “You can hire people to help you do this, so you don’t even have to have IT staff,” Allen said.
“The other thing is I’m always encouraged to share in intimate detail anything we do,” Allen said. “Another district could get a huge jump start by just using the tools we’ve used already.”