Nov 21: Transparent and Competitive Hiring Process a Must
A Message to all BCSD stakeholders: The following letter was presented to the Board of Education Members, on behalf of ABS, at the November 7th BOE meeting. Tonight, Mrs. Cecilia Dansereau-Rumley, Assistant Superintendent for Instructional Services is set to give the workshop. It is our understanding that she will be addressing the hiring practices for the BCSD. We look forward to hearing how the district will be addressing stakeholder concerns and the changes that will be implemented. Please come to the meeting tonight, November 21. The Board is set to come back from Executive Session by 8:30 for the workshop.
Dear Beacon City School District Board of Education Members,
The Beacon City School District (“BCSD”) has recently undergone an extraordinary change in district management. Beginning in late June, the Board of Education (“Board”) has approved personnel changes in nine key leadership positions within BCSD, including three new elementary principals, four new upper-level administrators, and two new assistant principals. Only one of these nine administrators appears to have been appointed through a transparent, competitive hiring process. The other decisions were either administrative transfers approved by the Board after less than four days notice to the public, or hiring decisions made on an ad hoc basis.
This type of personnel management is simply unacceptable in our school district. The administrators and principals are important leaders in the school community. They set the tone for district management, they make key personnel decisions, influence curriculum development, approve extracurricular activities, ensure access to school resources for all community members, and advocate on behalf of our most vulnerable students and parents.
The scope and pace of these leadership changes raise serious questions about how BCSD manages its hiring and personnel decisions. The district’s hiring process must ensure that we appoint administrators who are unquestionably qualified, respect our BCSD’s diversity, know how to collaborate with parents, treat our teachers as professionals, and embrace innovation in our curricular and extracurricular activities. Administrators need to be trusted by the community and by the teachers with which they will work closely.
The current personnel management policies, to the degree that any exist, fall far short of this ideal. They are ad hoc, lack transparency, do not involve parents, and fail to follow even basic best practices. As a community, we have to do better. Advocates for Beacon Schools (“ABS”) is urging the Board and BCSD’s Interim Superintendent to implement commonsense policies and regulations designed to improve our personnel management process. We offer the following concrete, actionable policies and procedures as examples that we believe a district with our size and resources can easily implement.
ABS understands that new hiring procedures are being developed by the Interim Superintendent, and that a new Board policy may be implemented soon. We would encourage the Interim Superintendent and the members of the Board to consider the following recommendations and incorporate them into proposed policies. We believe these represent realistic best practices that ensure transparency, community participation, accountability, and, most importantly, will result in the hiring of talented, energized, and innovative district administrators.
Issue #1: Increasing Board Oversight of District Hiring
ABS believes that is it important for the Board to become more involved in the hiring process. We believe that active leadership by the Board in the early stages of a proposed hire or administrative transfer would increase the likelihood of a thorough, transparent, and competitive hiring process. ABS believes that BCSD has tremendous potential to attract talented and innovative administrators and educators. The district needs strong leadership from the Board during the hiring process for new administrators to ensure that a hiring process is in place that can attract, identify, and select the highest quality candidates.
Since June 1st, two of BCSD’s four elementary schools had a new principal appointed with less than a month before school was scheduled to start. In addition, the transfers of Asheena Baez from Assistant Director of Pupil Personnel Services (“PPS”) to Principal at JVF and the appointment of Dawn Condello to Director of PPS left PPS with a brand new Director and a vacancy at Assistant Director while the department was reviewing and approving Individual Education Plans (“IEP”) for the district’s students. These changes were all approved by the Board at an August 15th Special Board Meeting.
In addition, the August 15th transfers appear to have left several personnel issues unresolved. Ms. Baez’s contract as Interim JVF Principal and Cassandra Orser’s contract as Interim Glenham Principal expire June 30, 2017. BCSD has not publicly discussed whether these appointments will be made permanent. However, both Ms. Baez and Ms. Orser are still on leave from their original appointments. Since the district has now hired a new Director of Special Education within PPS, it is unclear how the district will accommodate Ms. Baez if she should choose to resume her position as Assistant Director of PPS. Ms. Condello also remains under contract as Glenham’s Principal, even though she signed a four-year contract as the new Director of PPS.
It remains unclear to ABS why these transfers were required to take place at a Special Board Meeting with less than four days notice. However, it clearly demonstrates that the Board must take a more active role in managing BCSD’s personnel decisions. We believe that the Board should consider taking the following actions to increase oversight and improve the district’s planning process:
Action Item: Strengthen Board Involvement in Proposed Personnel Changes
ABS believes that getting the Board involved early in the planning process for upper-level personnel decisions will ensure that BCSD identifies potential problems and makes sound financial decisions. We believe that the Board should:
- Develop a formal Board policy that requires the BCSD’s administration to make a formal presentation to the Board about any proposed administrative personnel changes before the administration either 1) places a job advertisement for the position, or 2) negotiates a contract.
- Appoint a Hiring Committee comprised of Board members that would receive regular updates on the hiring searches being conducted by BCSD and provide feedback to the full Board on the district’s progress.
- Hold public sessions of the full Board where BCSD administrators can present to the public the goals and priorities for proposed personnel changes.
Although ABS recognizes that these steps will require additional work from Board members and BCSD administrators, we believe the benefits of greater accountability and transparency outweigh any potential costs. We also believe that better planning and public oversight will, in the long-run, reduce the costs, such as contract buyouts associated with poorly planned personnel decisions.
Issue #2: Increasing Parent Involvement
To our knowledge, only two of the candidates appointed through a hiring process this summer were part of a job search specific to their position that involved BCSD parents. Our school district has an active and growing number of engaged parents that participate through the PTOs and the PTO Collaborative, as well as multiple independent organizations committed to improving BCSD schools. These parents should participate in every major administrative hire or transfer, especially those that involve school principals.
At the request of the PTO at South Avenue, parents were actively engaged in the process of selecting a new South Avenue Principal. That hiring process allowed parents to meet potential candidates and provide valuable feedback on the strengths and weaknesses of each candidate. By bringing the parent community into the process, the district strengthened the engagement of South Avenue parents and increased the sense of ownership over the school’s management. Involved parents should be a top priority for every school in the district.
By contrast, BCSD’s decision to appoint new principals at both Glenham and JVF bypassed parents entirely. Not only did the district fail to properly inform the PTOs at both schools of their planning process; they also short-circuited any evaluation or discussion of the proposed candidates. This type of personnel decision reduces parent engagement and discourages parents from collaborating with District administrators. Ideally, each school should have conducted a competitive search for a new principal similar to the process at South Avenue. However, even if the District intends to appoint a principal through a transfer, parents can and should be given a chance to provide feedback.
Although upper-level BCSD administrators may have less direct contact with parents, the district would still benefit by having parents involved in some part of the hiring process. Parents should be consistently serving on hiring committees for upper level administrators or involved in on-site interviews of potential candidates. Of the upper-level administrators hired over the summer, only one appears to have included a hiring committee with parent participation. The district does not have a clear policy for how to include parents in the hiring process for these positions, or how to use parent input to shape hiring decisions.
Action Item: Develop a Clear and Consistent Policy for Improving Parent Involvement
ABS believes that BCSD should develop a hiring policy that includes district parents and students in every administrative hiring decision. When the position’s responsibilities include communicating with parents on a regular basis, district parents should be participating in on-site evaluations of potential candidates. This is especially true for school principals, who are the primary point of contact between parents and BCSD administration. To improve parent involvement, we propose that the district adopt the following in its new hiring policy:
- Clear and consistent guidelines for how parents will participate in each search being conducted by BCSD. This policy should be consistent for all six of the district’s schools, and it should communicate the process through which parents will be asked to participate.
- A high level of parent and student participation in the hiring process should be mandatory for every BCSD position that involves regular and ongoing communication with district parents and students.
- Some form of parent participation should be involved in every hiring decision that impacts BCSD instruction. The selection of a parent representative for a high-level district administrator should be based on clear guidelines and conducted through an open and transparent selection process.
- A Board policy that affirms BCSD’s commitment to parent involvement in all aspects of the district’s management, including its hiring process.
Issue #3: Adopt Best Practices for Hiring Decisions
A well-designed hiring process lays the foundation for BCSD’s long-term District. When job searches are properly planned and well advertised and involve a transparent and competitive evaluation of potential candidates, the district improves the likelihood that new hires will make a good fit with its long-term goals and priorities. It also increases the likelihood that candidates can be hired who will have the energy and enthusiasm to encourage innovative instruction.
Unfortunately, there appears to be no clear policy for how BCSD advertises a position, reviews potential candidates, conducts on-site interviews, or selects a finalist. In particular, the hiring process for various positions filled over the summer appear to show the following problems with BCSD’s current approach:
- BCSD administrators are reacting to changing circumstances rather than appointing personnel based on careful consideration of the district’s goals. This creates a haphazard environment where appointments are made without thoroughly considering the fit between the administrator and the community being served.
- Once a job opening is posted, there appears to be no clear process or strategy for identifying high-quality candidates. This is related to both the absence of meaningful self-reflection before the hiring process begins, and the absence of a hiring committee with relevant stakeholders.
- BCSD has no consistent administrative regulation governing the hiring process. In some cases, hiring committees are established, convened, and then ignored. In other cases, principals are placed in charge of implementing school-based procedures that may vary from school to school. There appears to be no evaluation of the adequacy of these hiring procedures.
- Internal candidates are hired without a clear sense that they have been properly or thoroughly evaluated based on their job performance in the district.
- BCSD does not appear to have a district-wide understanding of the type of curricular leadership or instruction that it seeks to promote through its hiring decisions. This goes hand-in-hand with a failure to communicate with parents in order to develop a broader vision of the district.
Action Item: Implementing a Formal District Hiring Policy
ABS believes that BCSD administration is taking the right steps to address these problems. We understand that the Interim Superintendent will present a workshop before the Board at its meeting on November 21st that outlines proposed changes to the district’s hiring policies. We are encouraged by these developments, and look forward to reviewing and providing feedback on these proposed changes.
ABS believes that good hiring decisions are made when the following best practices are used during a job search:
- Formal Planning Meeting - As soon as a potential vacancy is identified, the district engages in an evaluation of BCSD’s goals and priorities to identify the characteristics of a candidate that would best fit the position. This is used to update the job description and decide what type of candidate to target in the job search.
- Advertising Widely - The BCSD should then adopt an advertising strategy beyond merely posting the position on OLAS. This would include targeting particular geographic areas, reaching out to professional networks and associations, and holding informational meetings about the district.
- Appointing a Hiring Committee of Stakeholders - The evaluation of potential candidates should include a committee comprised of administrators, teachers, and parents who are involved in screening and selecting finalists for on-site interviews. The Committee should have a clear role established by BCSD policy, and a clear idea how the search should be conducted.
- On-Site Interviews - The Hiring Committee should identify at least two potential finalists who will participate in on-site interviews with members of the hiring committee, parents, and students. The interviews should be conducted with a standardized set of questions and a rubric that allows the Hiring Committee to make meaningful comparisons between candidates.
We are confident that if the Board and BCSD work to develop policies that reflect these practices, the district’s hiring process will improve dramatically.
Working Together to Improve District Performance
ABS recognizes that the BCSD has faced a unique situation, and we applaud the efforts of our district administrators who are being asked to work within a very challenging environment. However, the Board and the district’s administration must recognize that the only way to break the pattern of decisions that have resulted in ballooning contract payouts and substantial distrust between parents and administrators is to push BCSD and the Board to change its policies.
A new hiring policy at the district and Board level that reflects the goals and best practices described in this letter will strengthen BCSD leadership, increase parent engagement, reduce the ballooning cost of contract buyouts, and ensure that our schools and departments are being staffed with personnel that have the experience, skills, and vision to lead our district forward.
ABS will remain engaged in this process and will actively participate in upcoming Board Meetings to ensure that the district takes the right steps forward. Although it is tempting to wait until a new Superintendent is appointed next spring, we urge the Board to formalize these changes as soon as possible. We need to take immediate steps to 1) increase Board oversight, 2) improve parent involvement, and 3) adopt the best practices for our District’s hiring process.