inside our Practice
The research is clear: school leaders and teachers are game-changers in the lives of their students.
Unfortunately, the recruitment, ongoing development, and retention of high-quality school leaders and teachers are issues that persist in urban school systems. Estimates vary, but approximately 50% of new principals transfer from their schools after three years. In schools serving high-poverty communities, that figure is often worse, with only one quarter of new principals in these schools making it to the five-year mark.
In Los Angeles, as in most public school systems across the country, there are few incentives or supports to ensure that schools serving students with the greatest needs have an equal opportunity to attract and retain the most highly qualified and experienced educators. Many high-need schools struggle to attract and retain qualified educators, frequently leading schools to hire in circumstances when they only have one or two applicants for a position, or have to accept a must-place assignment from the District. The result is that highest-need schools are much less likely to hire and retain qualified teachers who are a good fit for the students they serve.
Because we know that the quality of school leaders and teachers is a critical lever to improve student outcomes, we dedicate significant resources to the strategic recruitment, development, and retention of the most qualified and well-matched talent for our schools.
Principal recruitment, selection, and retention
The Partnership is committed to hiring highly effective, transformational leaders for each of our schools.
We do this through a principal selection process intentionally designed to identify a leader who will dramatically accelerate student performance by developing systems and structures that support student learning and staff growth. The Partnership works to hire diverse candidates representing all races, backgrounds, ethnicities, genders, and religious affiliations.
Principal selection in the Partnership network is guided by three key principles. Our process is:
- Collaborative – Hiring committees include all stakeholders (certificated staff, classified staff, families, district staff, and Partnership staff)
- Rigorous – Candidates are expected to demonstrate their skills in a variety of ways throughout the process, including formal interviews and a candidate exercise
- Rooted in school and community needs – Stakeholder feedback gathered at the start of the process drives the hiring committee’s decisions.
What Sets the Partnership Approach Apart
A key autonomy in our MOU with LA Unified that facilitates our talent and school leadership work is the flexibility to recruit, select, and manage school leaders. We use a rigorous selection process to identify leaders with proven success, including recruiting from a wide pool as well as promising candidates from within our network of schools, many of whom previously held leadership positions at their sites through our Teacher Leader Pathways.
We know that a strategic focus on hiring the best school leaders is not enough within a school system where policies have undue and inequitable impacts on our highest-need schools. Above any tactic or strategy that we use to recruit and retain talent, it is our relationships with LA Unified’s HR and Talent departments that enable us to lead successful change at our schools.
We work to engage the entire school community in the hiring and selection process. If diverse and representative stakeholders are not involved in the process, the principal chosen may not be the best fit for the school, and will have to work even harder to win the trust and support of the school community. Utilizing our additional resources, we are able to implement a more inclusive hiring process that involves multiple rounds of interviews with a committee of key stakeholders at the school site, including school leaders, teachers, parents, and often students, to ensure that the school leader is an appropriate fit with the entire community.
Common Barriers to Principal Hiring
- Rights granted to senior administrators can limit a school’s choices when it comes to selecting a principal (e.g., when district budget constraints or displaced administrators from one school site must be assigned to other school sites).
How We Mitigate:
Our MOU offers the Partnership some flexibility to select the principals we believe are the best fit for our schools, and we work closely with District HR to time our hiring processes so that we are protected from displaced administrators being assigned to our schools without an interview process.
- A lack of “great-fit” candidates for a specific school or role can put schools in a tough position if they feel forced to hire someone not well-suited to the job.
How We Mitigate:
We actively work to widen our pool of high-quality candidates through the use of impact data, referrals from our network, and the development of a leadership pipeline within and across our schools.
- Impact data: We hire leaders with a proven track record of success in growing student outcomes over multiple years while serving high-need communities. Our Talent team analyzes school performance data to identify and conduct outreach to promising candidates.
- Network referrals: Our most successful leaders are those with significant experience serving our communities. We use our trusted networks within and outside of our schools and the school district to advertise open positions and source referrals of high-quality candidates.
- Development of leadership pipelines: For talent within our schools who are connected to the community and possess a strong commitment to excellence, we offer a teacher leader program and an aspiring leaders program in partnership with UCLA’s Center X Principal Leadership Institute.
Teacher recruitment, selection, and retention
“The Partnership provides a variety of supports around staffing my school. By working to expand the pool of candidates interested in my campus, my team and I have a greater chance of finding teachers who are the best fit for our school. The Talent Team is able to pull down barriers that might hinder us from being able to hire teachers we need.”Alex KimPrincipal, Edwin Markham Middle School
Teacher recruitment and retention in high-need schools is a national challenge and in LA Unified, teacher hiring is done through a decentralized approach in which schools compete each hiring season to fill teacher vacancies.
In times of the school year when candidates are scarce, or in hard-to-staff subject areas such as math, science, and special education, under-resourced schools like ours struggle to compete with schools with greater resources whose students are more likely to start the year already meeting grade-level expectations. Although hiring rules are equal, hiring outcomes are not, and high-need schools must sometimes accept whichever candidate is assigned to them. We believe that a high-quality teaching staff is a critical lever for school success. We know that the bigger the pool of candidates to choose from, the more likely a school is to find a successful candidate who will accelerate outcomes for students.
Our Talent team includes three dedicated staff members (a ratio of 1 staff to 6 schools) that advertise for teaching roles, make calls to our network for referrals, and screen and vet prospective candidates for school leader and District consideration. We work to remove common barriers to teacher staffing and to expand the pool of quality candidates for our schools to choose from.
Common Barriers to Teacher Staffing
- School leaders are held responsible for filling teacher vacancies at their sites, with minimal individualized support from the District HR department.
How We Mitigate:
We dedicate a significant portion of our Talent team’s time to teacher recruitment and hiring support for schools. The team meets with the District’s HR department every other week in order to share information about real-time teacher vacancy updates, potential teacher candidates, and teacher hiring timelines. Building lasting relationships with HR staff allows us to expedite requests and get better information to principals that could otherwise have been buried in administrative processes.
- Candidates often bring with them preconceived notions about a school or a particular neighborhood. If negative, this can keep otherwise strong candidates from interviewing or accepting a position.
How We Mitigate:
We build the capacity of principals to counteract negative reputational issues by showing candidates their school site in a proactive and positive way, including setting up interviews at the school itself, facilitating school tours, creating opportunities for the candidate to interact directly with students through a demo lesson, and demonstrating and highlighting the vibrancy of our school communities.
- District budget constraints or over-supplied content areas can prevent schools from bringing in new and out-of-district teachers, and instead be forced to choose from a pool of already-contracted candidates.
How We Mitigate:
We advocate to the District’s HR department and even to the Superintendent’s office to maintain more flexibility for the highest-need schools by providing targeted relief from policies or practices that might unnecessarily limit the talent pool.
- Teachers may move, resign, or retire late in the summer or even mid-year, making it very hard to fill vacancies with high-caliber candidates.
How We Mitigate:
We build the capacity of principals to retain their teachers, including having regular conversations with teachers about their plans, providing teachers with recognition and appreciation, focusing on their most irreplaceable teachers, and other strategies to limit the number of unexpected departures and vacancies.
Strong recruitment and retention systems are foundational.
We know that school transformation cannot happen if a school is unable to recruit and retain great teachers, regardless of how effective other aspects of the school program are. Even the best teacher development program won’t be successful if teachers are not retained to use what they have learned. For schools early in the transformation process, we establish the foundational management skills of the school leadership team, including a focus on working conditions and building a strong adult culture on campus. In the talent management domain, we focus first on recruitment and retention, rather than the selection process. The biggest challenge for a school in the beginning of its transformation is not choosing the wrong candidate, but rather not having any candidates from which to choose.
Talent strategies are a priority.
Each year we operate, we recognize anew that talent strategies must be an organizational priority. This has caused us to devote more resources to both providing direct services to schools, such as building deeper pipelines, providing more referral incentives, devoting more staff time to screening and referring candidates, and to focus more of our precious professional development time with principals on talent-related issues. We also make talent an advocacy priority, and raise issues when we we meet with LA Unified senior leadership or board members.
Identify & communicate candidate requirements from the start.
We’ve learned to be very intentional about identifying and communicating the non-negotiable requirements for a principal candidate with our hiring committee in order to build trust throughout the process and avoid creating expectations that cannot be met. We now make these requirements (e.g., a track record of academic growth or other high-priority qualities identified by the school community) transparent and screen candidates who do not meet these requirements before they ever meet the hiring committee. We continue to improve the ways we communicate principal candidate expectations with hiring committees so they feel that they are heard and have strong candidates from which to choose.