In a move that signifies the growing focus on school-personnel operations, Philadelphia schools’ Chief Executive Officer Paul G. Vallas recently removed four of his district’s top human resource managers. Responding to ongoing complaints directed at the human resource office, Vallas said in a interview with The Philadelphia Inquirer that the department was both “insensitive” and “unresponsive.”
According to the Inquirer, there have been complaints for years about the district’s burdensome hiring process and its inability to attract and retain teachers. Vallas added that the 208,000-student district’s human resource department was being run on “‘institutional memory’ rather than data.”
Determined to “put the ‘human’ back in ‘human resources,’” as he told the Inquirer, Vallas recently promoted Tomás Hanna, the director of teacher recruitment and retention, to senior vice president of human resources.
In a recent e-mail interview with Teacher Recruiter, Hanna said that one of his mains goal in the new position is to create “an organizational structure within HR that is a model for the rest of the organization.”
“Improved customer service is at the heart of improved teacher recruitment and retention,” he added. “All HR staff must treat every prospective employee as a valuable resource we cannot afford to squander.”
Hanna plans to improve the department’s business processes so that it uses data more effectively, generating accurate and timely information about the district’s unmet staffing needs to guide daily management decisions. “These changes will require more widespread and sophisticated use of electronic systems, process re-engineering, and perhaps most challenging of all, a transformation in the culture of HR,” Hanna stated.
Hanna also said that the district aims to streamline the application process for prospective teachers, shortening the timeline between application and assignment, as well as provide stronger support to instructional staff to increase retention rates. The district will look to coordinate hiring, selection, and placement of new teachers and transfers of veteran teachers, Hanna said.
Asked specifically about the changes he’ll be overseeing in the district’s recruitment and retention policies, Hanna pointed to recent contractual agreements with the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers. New district initiatives created by the contract include site-based selection, a school-based hiring process that Hanna anticipates “will help the district hire teachers earlier than in the past.”
Another initiative is the identification of “Incentive Schools"—schools officially designated as hard-to-staff. That initiative aims to attract the best of both new and current teachers to the neediest schools. Hanna said that incentives for teachers include tuition reimbursement, targeted professional development, and a $4,500 bonus spread over 37 months. In addition, Praxis costs, up to $250, will be reimbursed for new teachers.