HR year in review

by Amy Campbell

The 2016–17 school year is wrapping up, and while teachers may be taking a little time to rest this summer, district HR staff are working to finish year-end processes and complete hiring and placement of staff for the 2017–18 school year. We spoke with HR staff across the state to learn about what challenges they faced this year and what successes they enjoyed. Some of their insights also give a peek into what’s on the horizon for HR in 2017–18.

Challenges in 2016–17

It’s probably no surprise budget limitations were a challenge cited by several HR professionals.
Lolly Guerra, Program Director at the Texas Association of School Personnel Administrators (TASPA), said figuring out salaries for 2017–18 has been a challenge.

“The Legislature still hasn’t passed a budget, and districts are trying to determine salaries without knowing what resources they’ll have,” she said.

Marcia Daniels, Director of HR at San Elizario ISD (SEISD), also would love for budgets to be set earlier, but she acknowledges that’s difficult to do, especially in a legislative year.

“Budgets should be determined earlier,” she said. “They handicap districts by doing it so late. It’s hard to give raises or determine the amount of raises. If some other districts are announcing sooner, we do our best to match them, but we’re small enough that we can’t go out on a limb and say for sure that’s what we’re going to do.”

Recruiting for hard-to-fill positions continues to be a challenge and it’s not looking like this will get any easier next year.

“We went through a period where we had an abundance of teachers,” said Guerra. “Now universities aren’t producing the numbers [of graduates] they used to. The critical shortage areas are even worse. Bilingual, math, science, foreign languages—they’re even harder to fill.”

Rose Benitez, Executive Director of TASPA, said many districts are using the certification flexibilities offered by becoming a District of Innovation to help address the shortages. But that also poses issues.

“What does flexibility mean?” Benitez said. “That’s been a challenge. Every time we do a certification workshop, questions about districts of innovation come up. We’re telling districts they really need HR at the table and they need to be specific when they talk about flexibility in certification.”

HR professionals encounter obstacles outside of core HR functions, too. Willie Watson, Assistant Superintendent of HR at San Marcos CISD and the TASPA Executive Board President for 2016–17, shared issues such as recapture, STAAR testing, and high percentages of low socioeconomic students (SES) to educate can put a lot of pressure on HR staff.

For example, districts with a large low-SES population may struggle more with teacher turnover, given they often set very high expectations for their teachers to improve student academic growth, and those students can be more challenging to educate. Districts subject to recapture are sending money back to the state, which limits the amount of funding available for pay increases and improving teacher pay.

Daniels said in border districts like hers, deportation is a major concern throughout the community and some families have withdrawn their students causing enrollment swings.

“The focus on [deportation] takes away from what really needs to be the focus: improving our students’ education and their well-being,” she said. “We’re having to focus on trying to keep them from being afraid instead of learning.”

Successes in 2016–17

But 2016–17 also had some big successes in the K-12 HR world. The new Human Capital Leader in Education (HCLE) certification was cited by several HR professionals as a major success this school year. TASPA partnered with the American Association of School Personnel Administrators (AASPA) and Battelle for Kids to provide the certification in two pilot trainings in Texas this school year.

“That’s been on the strategic plan for TASPA and all of us in HR in the state for many years,” Watson said. “It’s nice to be able to finally get that off the ground with a reputable organization.”

Guerra echoed Watson’s point.

“We intend to continue that,” Guerra said, “and then, of course, it’s gone nationwide now with the virtual program.”

Daniels said San Elizario ISD worked hard this year to revamp their new employee orientation.

“I wanted to get a survey from our new teachers about what we’re doing well and what we’re not doing well,” she said.

HR took the results of the survey and have revamped their practices to meet new teachers’ needs. She also said the district is focusing more on retention and trying low-cost methods for showing how much the district values its teachers, such as hosting an ice cream social for new teachers and gifting them with a rolling cart at the completion of their first year in the district. Daniels said these efforts have helped them retain more of their new teacher hires.

Some districts have managed to turn the challenge of budget adoption into a success by shifting the process to earlier in the year.

Watson said he was able to move the budget adoption process at San Marcos CISD—including compensation plan adoption—from a June–August timeframe to April–May.

“That’s big for this organization because it’s never been done,” he said.

It also allowed the district to announce next year’s salaries before many of its peer districts, which will help with recruitment.

Finally, Daniels said use of social media by San Elizario ISD has supported the district’s recruitment efforts.

“We’re very Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat crazy,” she said. “We’re constantly promoting the good going on in the district. All of this good stuff going on is what gives us such a good reputation.”

Daniels credits much of the positive messaging to Sylvia Hopp, the SEISD superintendent.

“Social media helps us to get the word out in a format that people wanting to come to the district like to see,” Daniels said. “Because the superintendent is herself so into social media, it’s grown like wildfire over the past couple of years.”

The district is using this to their recruiting advantage by sharing images of the district’s new STEM building through social media, which Daniels said will support her efforts to recruit seasoned educators from other districts. 


Analysis: Teacher incentive pay improves student performance

by Keith McLemore

Teachers receiving merit-based pay provide the equivalent of nearly four additional weeks of student learning, according to a recent study.

Researchers at Vanderbilt University conducted a meta-analysis of multiple previous studies on merit pay and found pay programs employing a group incentive design result in larger positive effects than incentives given to individuals.

Difficulties in determining merit pay effectiveness

The relationship between teacher pay and student performance has been discussed for decades, with no real consensus to settle the debate. Lack of adequate funding to maintain merit-based pay programs has deterred many districts from solving the issue on their own, and other factors add to the difficulty in evaluating the effectiveness of a merit pay program, such as:
  • Coming to a consensus on how to fairly evaluate teacher performance
  • Determining a standardized assessment system
  • Creating the best method for gauging an educator’s contribution
  • Judging one educator’s performance compared to another
Multiple studies on the subject during the 1980s failed to reach the goal of determining merit pay effectiveness because of these factors, and only recently has the topic resurfaced with the same intensity as it did decades ago.

The effect of merit pay on teacher recruitment and retention

Pay incentives are a big factor in retaining teachers, but districts with a merit pay program in place may see some of their recruiting difficulties fade away. The presence of an incentive plan for teachers is appealing for most candidates and could provide an edge in recruiting over a nearby district.

A 2009 Missouri study explored a pay program allowing teachers who meet state-and district-level performance criteria the opportunity to receive supplementary bonus pay for completing academic responsibilities. The result was promising. Teachers in participating districts were less likely than teachers in non-participating districts to move to a different district. They also were less likely to leave the profession.

Working together

Merit pay programs aimed at groups of teachers who worked together to earn incentive pay resulted in twice the average effect compared to individuals competing against each other for incentives. The group merit pay structure encourages teachers to:
  • Collaborate together
  • Learn new instructional practices
  • Discover new ways to approach the curriculum
  • Share ideas and tools among one another
The Vanderbilt study focused strictly on merit-based pay incentives, which, in many cases, require a significant deal of funding. In January, we addressed ways to implement teacher career pathways within tight budget restrictions while still reaping the recruiting and retention benefits similar to fully funded incentive programs.

To view the full Vanderbilt study and analysis, click here


5 steps to improve your onboarding process

by Zach DiSchiano

The onboarding process is a pivotal time in the hiring of a new employee. If done properly, it helps employers reduce turnover and employees form better relationships and understand job expectations.

Nearly a third of new teachers leave the profession within five years, and while there are many components factoring into that statistic, establishing a strong, effective onboarding process can limit turnover in districts. Onboarding is a great opportunity for districts to communicate their culture to new hires and establish a welcoming, friendly atmosphere.

The difference between onboarding and orientation is that the former is a series of events (which includes orientation) that helps new hires understand how to excel in their day-to-day job, while the latter is a one-time event welcoming the employee to the district. Orientation tends to focus on big picture ideas and the individual’s role in the district while onboarding is more individualized and focuses on the employee’s specific role in their department.

Many of the new employees districts bring on are millennials, who have a reputation for a lack of loyalty in their careers. A recent Gallup report stated 21 percent of the generation said they’ve changed jobs within the last year—more than triple the number of non-millennials. Investing time and effort into improving your district’s onboarding process can keep these new workers happy.  

To help districts come up with their own plan, we’ve identified five ideas to build a better onboarding process:

  1. Reach out to new hires before their orientation and start date
    • Give employees a call to confirm their start date, dress code, parking location, and other basics.
    • Seek out any requests or needs the employees may have to help them feel comfortable from day one.
    • Remind the employee to collect any documents for orientation or online tasks as needed for completing I-9 and insurance forms.
  2. Make the first day special
    • Give the employee a welcome package that includes small gifts or messages from co-workers.
    • Send a welcome video. Many districts have recruiting videos, but no videos welcoming new employees to the job.
    • Schedule a lunch with the new hire and their immediate co-workers.
    • Send a school-wide email announcing the arrival of the new employee and provide a quick introduction and background.
    • Ask for feedback from the new hire about their first day so you can make improvements for the next one.
  3. Ensure the onboarding process doesn’t end after the employee’s first day
    • Create a 90-day learning and development plan.
    • Schedule regular one-on-one meetings between the employee and supervisor.
    • Offer opportunities to attend or be involved in an activity outside the employee’s work area.
  4. Give new hires a look inside your district
    • Communicate your company’s culture, mission, and vision on your portal and HR website.
  5. Stay organized
    • Put together a concrete plan detailing each step of the onboarding process, from offer letter to 12-month review. Stick to it.
    • Use programs that enable you to share onboarding timelines and the other pieces and details of the processes.
Communication is the overarching theme in producing a competent onboarding program. Soliciting feedback throughout the process is important in continuing to improve your district’s practices in onboarding. Ensuring employees feel welcome, supported, and essential to the district’s success is the best way to establish a positive climate for your new hires, and it’s best to start sending those communications before they step on campus for their first day. 


HR Extras

Bills to watch: Legislative update

Four of the 11 bills we've been monitoring on the HR Exchange Bills to Watch segment were passed by the House and Senate and are awaiting gubernatorial approval or have already been signed. One bill was tacked onto another as an amendment. Bills passed include:

SB 7: Addresses improper relationships and educator misconduct (signed). Provisions from SB 653 are included. 
SB 196: Requires parent notification regarding assignment of full-time nurse, librarian, or counselor. (editor's note: this bill was vetoed on June 15, 2017)
HB 2039: Establishes EC-3 certification
HB 3563: Requires parent notification if a teacher does not meet certification requirement. 

Stay tuned for next month's solo issue, where we'll have a complete breakdown of each HR-relevant bill that passed in the legislative session. 

TEA launches new professional development pilot

A news release from the Texas Education Agency (TEA) announced the launching of a new pilot program focusing on educator training. 

"Commissioner of Education Mike Morath announced today that the Texas Education Agency (TEA) has launched a pilot project for six learning programs targeted at educators within select districts across the state. The pilot is part of a broader initiative in the agency’s shift towards impact-focused training and will help to form the future of professional development in Texas.

Nearly 400 educators will participate in the pilot, which is designed to provide an innovative way for teachers and school board members to demonstrate proficiency of their skills and acquire micro-credentials (or digital badges). Educators who complete micro-credentials through the program will also be eligible to earn Continuing Professional Education (CPE) hours for their efforts.

Six learning programs have been designated for the initial pilot focusing on: Teacher Effectiveness; College/Career Readiness for Guidance Counselors; Early Literacy; Ethics for School Board Governance; Student Outcomes Alignment for School Board Governance; and Career Technical Education."

The rest of the release is available at the TEA Website

Dallas ISD pay-for-performance system paying dividends

Data highlighted in a recent Dallas Morning News editorial revealed promising trends in teacher retention thanks to Dallas ISD's pay-for-performance system. 

An analysis of the system from education nonprofit Commit found the more effective the teacher, the higher the retention rate. The highest quality teachers are earning the biggest raises, rather than the teachers with the most seniority.

To read the full editorial, click here

Inside HR Services

TASB HR Services presentations at TASPA Summer Conference

The TASPA Summer Conference is quickly approaching, and TASB HR Services consultants will be presenting on a variety of topics as shown below:

Topic Presenter(s)
FMLA Easy As Pie April Mabry
Evaluation Roundtable Karen Dooley, Amy Campbell
Transitioning to K-12 HR Karen Dooley, Luz Cadena
Effective Use of Staffing Tools Zach Hobbs, Patti Ellis
Building Teacher Career Pathways Cindy Clegg
The Price is Right! Pay System Basics Ann Patton, Matthew Levitt

We hope to see you in attendance!

Remember to purge personnel records

Summer is a great time to go through your personnel records and discard what needs purging. For the retention schedule resources and personnel files checklist, visit the HR Library.

Use Sample Compensation Letter as you finalize salaries

After your district's budget is adopted, you can issue employee pay notices that provide specific salary information for the upcoming year. A Sample Compensation Letter to Employees is on file in the HR Library