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Using tech to hire teachers: 5 lessons learned at a growing charter school

What you need to know to conduct more interviews, make faster decisions, and hire great teachers

It’s no secret that finding and hiring teaching talent is one of the biggest challenges schools and districts face.

My school, Dr. Richard Izquierdo Health and Science Charter School (HSCS) in the Bronx, has experienced this first hand.

Over the past four years, our school has grown into a full-service 6-12 middle and high school, serving students and families in the South Bronx. During that time, we’ve almost tripled our staff size, hiring more than 20 teachers per year.

During the past year, we completely revamped our hiring procedures to make the process of assessing and recruiting great teachers much more seamless. With these changes, we’ve reduced the time it takes to hire candidates and improved the quality of the candidates we hire.

Here are some of the best practices we’ve learned along the way.

(Next page: Tips for streamlining your school or district’s hiring process)

Takeaway 1: Establish a main point of contact for all candidates.

This time last year, our school’s interview process was decentralized, which was inefficient for candidates and for our administration. Our hiring cycle was reactive and we had to go through a time-consuming process to fill each opening.

Our screening process worked like this: First, our principal’s assistant would print out candidate resumes and put them on his desk. Then, they would sit there for a while until he sorted through them, wrote down “Leah” or whomever he wanted to reach out, and gave the resumes back to his assistant. Finally, his assistant would give those papers to the designated interviewers and they’d reach out to the applicant and conduct the phone screens.

It was a very slow process! Five people would have to weigh in before each hiring decision was made. One of our teachers left in September 2016 and we didn’t fill the role until February 2017. We kept losing candidates to other schools because they were hearing from them more quickly.

One way we rectified this situation was by appointing one person (at the time, it was me) to drive the entire process from finding candidates to scheduling interviews.

I conducted the sourcing, designated team members to make initial phone screens, and coordinated logistics for in-person interviews. I made up my own title as hiring coordinator so that candidates knew they could come to me with any questions and that I’d be managing the process. This one small change made a huge difference, as it took the pressure off our teachers and administrators and empowered me to move quickly.

Takeaway #2: Standardize everything.

Since I joined in 2014, our school’s staff has almost tripled in size—from 48 to 140 employees. We’ve made a ton of small but impactful changes to improve our response times and ensure great candidates wouldn’t get away. One of the most important has been to standardize our hiring process.

For example, we created a phone-interview rubric that we can use for every applicant. This rubric is a guide for the interviewer; it lists the questions that need to be asked during a phone interview and allows everyone to see phone-interview feedback in a consistent format.

We also standardize the in-person candidate experience. First, every candidate receives a tour. Then they meet with a class and teach a demo lesson, and finally they meet with our principal and school leaders. Being consistent about this practice made it easier to compare candidates equally.

Takeaway #3: Use an applicant tracking system.

Our next step was investing in an online applicant tracking system. We did demos with several companies and ultimately chose Lever. I liked that Lever centralized all candidate profiles and interactions. I knew I wouldn’t receive paper or email resumes in different ways and that all communication would be in one portal. I also loved that I’d be able to communicate with my hiring committee through @ mentions, give them clear roles, and easily message all of our candidates since Lever syncs with our Google-based email system.

Automation of resume intake and a central repository for all candidates made my and our interviewers’ jobs simple and intuitive. They didn’t need to shuffle papers or ask for a resume to be reprinted—it was all right there at the tip of their fingers.

Takeaway #4: Hire for your values.

Charter schools often have specific philosophies that aren’t used in other districts, so finding the right candidates can be hard. Our school uses a universal co-teaching model, for example, so candidates have to be comfortable working side by side with another teacher each day, every day. To find teachers who share our ideals and goals, we created four hiring values, such as “eagerness to collaborate” and “growth mindset,” and we’ve based our phone-screen questions on them. We’ve also imbued those values into other parts of the hiring process.

Takeaway #5: Focus on retention.

It’s uniquely difficult for charter schools to retain teachers. We’re an extra-governmental organization, not a school district, so we can’t offer the same pension and union benefits that, for example, the NYC Department of Education can. Sometimes, people will come work here for a year or two, but they don’t see it as the place they’ll spend their career. To avoid that, we try to effectively gauge their investment during the recruiting process. Do we think they’ll really commit to the community we have here?

We’ve also been brainstorming other ideas on how to retain talent, including initiatives like bonuses and raises that are linked to performance, paying more than public schools do, and conveying the immense value in working at a charter school.

Once the HSCS hiring team put these best practices in place, the changes were immediate and undeniable. Now, our team is conducting more interviews, making faster decisions, and hiring great teachers.

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