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Relying on Web-Based Technology to Secure Top Talent

To retain quality faculty, one Missouri school district makes automation of job application and professional development programs a priority.

Park Hill School District Teaching can be distinctly rewarding and abundantly frustrating. From the teacher’s perspective, selecting the right school setting and pursuing the correct professional development path—one that supports the potential for financial as well as professional advancement—are the keys to a sense of reward and fulfillment. That’s why at Park Hill School District in Kansas City, MO— which serves 9,500 students in nine elementary schools, three middle schools, and two high schools—our ability to attract and retain the finest teachers and other educational staff is a top priority. It’s not surprising, then, that automating our job application and professional development programs was high on our technology wish list, since we employ 650 certified teachers and more than 600 staff members.

Despite the steady advance of technology,however, too many districts stilllanguish in the paper-based hiringprocess, which relies on that infamouspaper file traveling from desk to desk.Onceon board,teachers are then subjected to theongoing challenge of professional development.But it is critical that teachers’professional development courses—whether in-house, online, or part of anexternal degree program—are reviewedand approved, with results tracked andprogress counted toward this certificationand advancement. On a district-widebasis, the smooth administration of aprofessional development program can bea daunting, time-consuming, and laborintensivetask. So when faced with thischallenge at Park Hill,we used technologyto meet it head-on.

Selecting a Technology Partner

Park Hill strongly believes in the value oftechnology to drive process, communication,and overall operating efficiency. Oursuperintendent and school board carefullyassess each technology request, then sethigh standards for information flow andprocess integration across our network.Any new application must have the abilityto interface with existing HR, payroll, andother critical databases. Increasingly,we’rea Web-based, data-driven school district,and we’ve realized significant efficienciesby taking this approach.

Still, while we have a superb IT staff,wewere not naive enough to believe that it wasbest to build applications from the groundup. When you add an application to anestablished network, all parts of the infrastructureneed to communicate and integrateeffortlessly. Thus, driving applicationdevelopment and integration in-housewould have put a severe drain on our ITresources and prevented us from movingahead with other important projects. Soinstead, we chose to select a qualified technologyvendor who could work with us todesign and build the software, while ourinternal team handled implementation.

We also knew that we needed a vendorflexible in approach and willing to work withus as a partner from the design phaseforward. There was no plug-and-play technologyanswer to our situation, and rarelydo two companies work well together whenone is promoting an out-of-the-box solutionto a complex challenge. Based on theseselection criteria, we chose to work withNetchemia (www.netchemia.com), aKansas-based technology company thatspecializes in software solutions for the K-12market. From past experience, the company had shown they were willing to truly partnerwith us in the design, integration, androllout of new Web-based software.

Managing Web-Based Staff Development

Our professional development tool is thorough in managing the training process. It gives teachers online access to all professional development options available— whether Web-based, instructor-led, inhouse, or external. It even moves teachers through the sign-up and approval processes. The tool also automatically checks to determine whether a teacher has an adequate number of hours allocated for development, then routes the online request form to the correct HR executive for review and approval. Once approved, teachers are alerted when they access the portal. This means no more paper forms, phone call follow-ups, or time wasted waiting for the approval process to play out.

Better yet, the software tracks all course history and results, which are critical to a teacher’s certification and salary progress. Also, all of our staff training is tracked, from district-wide development days and courses completed via Park Hill’s Macromedia Breeze e-learning system (www.macromedia.com), to external coursework offered by Connected University (cu.classroom.com), an online professional development resource. Automating these processes leads to efficiency and significant time savings. For example, every Park Hill staff member must complete a course in child abuse and neglect. When a class is held, the list of attendees is imported into the staff development database and instantly reflected as part of each staff member’s educational history.

Teachers can also analyze their course history for the purpose of certification advancement. For instance, the system tallies the number of certification hours needed to move from one level of professional development to the next. Certification data is also automatically imported to our HR and payroll system databases. As a consequence,the process for determining appropriate salary increases is streamlined and decisions are based on accurate, up-to-date data.

Help Wanted: Dealing With Online Applications

Automating the process. Our next step was to completely automate our job application process—the most complicated project we had yet undertaken. We already had the ability to post jobs and accept applications online, but that’s where the automation ended. Our new system was conceptualized by one of our HR executives, and is designed to optimize internal efficiencies, eliminate administrative burden, speed the job application process, and provide a highly professional face to job applicants.

All open jobs are posted online so applicants can easily apply for multiple positions. That way, if an applicant is certi

fied to teach science, she may choose to apply for a position teaching physical science at middle school as well as one teaching biology at high school. Applicants can also upload their résumés, letters of interest, and even an electronic copy of their transcript through the site.

Reviewing and assessing submissions. The back-end portion of the professional development tool lets HR review a job submission, then choose who should interview the applicant through a drop-down box. As interviews are completed, applicants’ portfolios travel with them so there is no more waiting on internal mail to get a paper file from one desk to the next. Also, if an applicant seems particularly well-suited for a job that is not yet active, the file can be flagged for follow-up.

From the HR perspective, we want to intelligently assess and hire the best people as quickly as possible. The ratings and comments of staff members who have interviewed an applicant are obviously critical to the hiring decision; however, confidentiality of rating remarks is also crucial. Thus, with safeguards built into the tool, only the current reviewer can see comments and rankings associated with the application. This tool is immensely helpful in building an accurate record of an applicant’s interview activity. For example, if an elementary school teacher has interviewed at three schools within our district, the superintendent can view all ratings online—a real benefit in making a hiring decision.

"Our staff is our most valuable resource, and technology is helping us stay ahead of the competition for top talent."

At Park Hill, we are increasingly turning to Web-based tools to automate important processes. By automating our job application process and our professional development program, we speed processes and save costs by driving efficiency. Most important, we’re in a better position to attract the right educational talent, then enable and support their professional development. Our staff is our most valuable resource, and technology is helping us stay ahead of the competition for top talent.

Paul Kelly is the assistant to the superintendent of the Park Hill School District in Kansas City, MO.

This article originally appeared in the 06/01/2005 issue of THE Journal.

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