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Cage-Busting Recruiting

Note: Rick Hess is on sabbatical through May 6th. If you're missing him, you might try to catch him while he's out and about discussing his new book Cage-Busting Leadership (available here, e-book available here). For updates on when he might be in your neck of the woods, check here. Meantime, a tremendous lineup of guest stars has kindly agreed to step in while Rick's gone and share their own thoughts on the opportunities, challenges, implications, and nature of cage-busting leadership.

Guest blogging today is Scott Gaiber, Director of Recruitment and Human Capital Support for the San Francisco Unified School District, a Pre-K to 12th grade district that serves over 55,000 students in approximately 140 schools. Scott manages a team that provides district-wide recruitment and staffing support, serves as a single-point-of-contact for all district administrators, provides professional development workshops on staffing, and visits district schools to support talent management. Scott is an Education Pioneers Graduate School Fellowship alumnus from the 2008 Bay Area Cohort.

There's a good dose of "cage-busting" happening at the San Francisco Unified School District to get the best school leaders and teachers into our schools and classrooms and to keep them there. We're working to eliminate as many barriers as we can to effectively staff under-performing schools, and a key element is the timing of hiring.

Top candidates usually search for positions early in the hiring season, around April or before. But if our district is not ready to hire candidates in April - and traditional district hiring timelines often mean that a majority of open positions aren't filled until August - we're simply not able to compete for top talent.

My job is to make sure that SFUSD can compete with aggressive recruiting practices and hiring timelines because it is essential that our schools are staffed with the best people to ensure great teaching and learning results.

The lesson about the high stakes for early hiring is something that I first learned as an Education Pioneers Fellow in 2008, working with TNTP. TNTP's research showed time and time again that the best candidates are hungry and they're looking for opportunities early. During my Fellowship, I worked with both the Oakland and San Francisco Unified School Districts to create a report that made specific policy recommendations to effectively staff teachers in these two under-served school districts.

Five years later, now working for SFUSD, that report still comes up regularly in my work, most recently when my team and I were responsible for high stakes hiring for one of the district's lowest performing middle schools.

When I joined SFUSD in 2011, the district was working to implement some fairly dramatic changes after receiving a massive federal student performance grant. Ten schools in the district had qualified for the grant, which is awarded to schools that are among 5 percent of the lowest-performing schools in California. Everett Middle School was one of them, and I was tasked with leading my team in supporting the site to implement a turnaround plan, meaning at least half of the staff would need to be replaced.

Located between the Mission and Castro neighborhoods of San Francisco, Everett has over 400 students in grades six through eight, over 50 percent of whom are Hispanic or Latino, and 23 percent who are African American. Over 70 percent of Everett's students are socioeconomically disadvantaged, and nearly half of the students are English language learners.

In the 2009-2010 school year, the school's Academic Performance Index (API) dropped by 31 points overall, and by 84 points for African American students. There was no question that Everett needed a dramatic and aggressive turnaround plan.

When I first arrived at SFUSD, district leadership, most specifically leadership in Human Resource Department, enabled me to create the team I needed: one that is customer service-based and equity-centered, and one that provides the most resources to the schools that have students who need them most. We are cage-busting by trying to eliminate as many barriers as possible to effectively staffing our under-performing schools. For example, we look to leverage the provisions of the Quality Teacher and Education Act (QTEA), voter-approved in 2008, which allows us to--among other policies--make San Francisco teacher salaries competitive with those in surrounding school districts; provide financial incentives for teachers to work at schools with historically high turnover and teach in hard-to-fill subject areas; and provide flexibility for the hardest to staff schools to hire teachers on more aggressive timeline than other district schools.

My team and I worked with Everett's new leadership team, principal Richard Curci and assistant principals Jennifer Kuhr and Lena Van Haren, to re-staff Everett for success, and we did a massive amount of new hiring that first year -- 27 new teachers. As we worked with Curci, Kuhr and Van Haren to put a plan together, we took the time to develop a clear model of what we were looking for in candidates and a rigorous, multi-step process for candidates to demonstrate their fit for the site, including demonstration lessons and incorporating student and family voice in the evaluation of candidates.

My team and I helped Everett's school leaders identify desirable candidates, conduct rigorous interviews, and support and bring along the people they wanted to get on board as employees. Since then, we've continued to support the school on hiring and managing their staff to ensure success.

The results at Everett are remarkable, and were recently featured in the San Francisco Chronicle. There's a new culture at Everett that has transformed it from one of the lowest performing schools to the most improved middle school in the district. If you visit the school today, the kids are calm and they're learning; the instruction is infinitely better; the staff is cohesive; and the school as a whole has a clear vision and mission.

Now, other teachers from the district want to go there, and more and more families want to send their kids there. Because we were able to think strategically about our hiring decisions, we were able to get the talent into Everett that had the tools to improve student outcomes.

But our work is far from over. While Everett posted a 54 point API gain in 2011-2012, including a 32 point gain for African American students, a 29 point gain for Hispanic or Latino students, and a 23 point gain for socioeconomically disadvantaged students, the school's overall API hovers around 700. Though we don't yet have results for the 2012-2013 school year, Everett is on the right path to providing its students with the education they deserve, and we will continue to ensure that it has the right people in place to ensure success for all kids.

Richard Curci, principal of Everett Middle School, said of Scott's work: "In San Francisco Unified School District we are very fortunate to have the knowledgeable, dedicated and talented Scott Gaiber as our Director of Recruitment and Human Capital Support. Scott has helped my high needs school by steering the best candidates who were the appropriate fit for our school. He and his staff are always quick to respond to the many inquiries from our leadership team around human capital issues including interpreting the union contact. Scott is creative in helping us think out of the box to get our needs met. All his decisions are made with the students' best interest in mind. In all he does, Scott Gaiber is professional, supportive, insightful, proactive and always extremely helpful."

- Scott Gaiber

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