For most independent schools, the end of the school year, not the end of the calendar year, is the focus. But December is prime time to make a list and check it twice when it comes to recruitment and retention of faculty and staff.
Kalix spoke with its newest strategic partner, Amy John, President and Founder of Amy John Advisory, an educational consulting firm that leads senior-level searches for administrative positions in independent schools, project- based consulting specific to enrollment, marketing and development, and individual client employment support.
With nearly three decades of work experience in or for Baltimore independent schools and through her past role as Executive Director of the non-profit Baltimore Educational Scholarship Trust, which champions and creates Baltimore independent school access for underrepresented African American students, Amy is an expert in what it takes to recruit and retain the best personnel.
Q: What recruitment issues/items should be on a Head’s radar for general recruitment this time of year?
Amy: Get ahead of any search and competition. When a Head of School knows early in a school year that a senior-level staff person will not be returning the following fall, don’t wait until later in the spring to run the search. Prioritize filling any open position for the coming school year. Timing and process are key. You run a strategic search, find the strongest possible candidates and ensure a thoughtful and thorough process by conducting the search right after people get back from winter break. Spring break is not the best time. If you post when everyone else is, there’s a lot more competition. If you wait until summer, most of the talent has committed to other schools.
The strongest independent school job seekers are looking in early fall at NAIS and other associations that have a career opportunity location on their website. Running senior-level searches early will position a school to announce leadership transitions to their constituents and allow for their school community to get to know new hires through announcements and social media. Announcing new hires also can help with current faculty and student retention. Faculty and staff – and parents and current students – often appreciate knowing who will be joining their school community, and knowing often helps with uncertainty and anxiety.
Q: What retention issues should Heads of School have on the radar this time of year?
A: Retention of students, faculty and staff should be a priority for any school Head. Keeping retention numbers high takes a comprehensive plan that is implemented throughout the entire school year. Faculty retention plans include strong mentoring programs and professional development that are meaningful, evaluation by both department chairs as well as peers, and leadership opportunities. When retentions plans are done well, Heads will have more time to work on programmatic initiatives rather than personnel hires.
The best practice mentoring process is one that is on paper and has oversight by another top-level administrator and not necessarily the Head of School. That’s when you distinguish good faculty from great. If you don’t have a formalized program, use whatever structure in you have in place (department chairs, division heads) as a band-aid while you create a formal process. Heads should make time on their calendars to watch classes and give feedback. Division head meetings for all new and junior faculty should be on the calendar, too. New faculty love face time. Twenty minutes spent sitting beside a Head of School (and not across from a desk) means everything.
Q: What about the faculty or administrator who doesn’t want his or her position posted until later in the year?
My mantra with everything is: Own Your Truth. It can be challenging when a current employee tells you in December or January that his/her spouse is relocating, for example, but doesn’t want to share the fact that he/she will be leaving your school. Listen and empathize but explain that “I hear you, but for the good of the school, we need to find your replacement and fill your position with the best possible person.” The institution is bigger than the opening.
Talented Heads of School do this in a way that celebrates and honors the person leaving. It all comes down to leadership and controlling the message from the top. I might recommend that a school consider an announcement to its parent community in January that explains that, as with any school community, there are faculty and staff who will seek other professional work and communities at the end of the school year. Make sure that parents understand your priority is always to ensure the most talented staff to educate your students and that you always want to be ahead of that process. Explaining that posting positions are they are open ensures that your school can attract the best and most talented faculty.
Q: Are there different hiring and retention approaches to attract the best advancement hires, particularly in marketing and enrollment?
A: Absolutely. Independent schools have teams of professionals that make up the collective success of any school. The professionals who are responsible for the academic program need a specific retention plan, and the professionals that support the business arm of a school need a different retention plan. What every retention plan shares are professional development, growth opportunities, feedback and annual evaluation.
In 2008, everyone at independent schools, including faculty, became very aware of how important admissions and development are to the success of a school. It forced everyone to understand each other’s role and how each cog in the wheel is important. Read Amy’s recent blog post, “It all Matters.”
Q: Any tips when looking for top marketing and enrollment professionals?
A: To find the strongest marketing and enrollment professionals. zero in on applicants who understands sales and the power of numbers and think strategically. Often search committees look only at the “relationship” strength of a candidate. That is critical, but only being good at building relationships does not fill schools with children. These key positions in schools must understand how data drives strategies, and how strategies need to be overlaid to ensure a strong admissions season.
Find someone who understands your market. Think beyond posting to education sites and post to marketing sites. That’s where the true marketing people are going to come from to help independent schools.
Q: What’s the most important thing a Head can do for recruitment and retention?
A: Live the school’s mission in its most authentic way. Be who you say you are and lead in a way that reflects the school’s core values and guiding principles. When that is done well, faculty, staff, students and parents will feel a deep-rooted connection to the school and will want to be right where they are. And prospective faculty and staff will want to be a part of it!
Amy speaks fluent independent school, having worked in Baltimore-area independent schools for almost 30 years. During her tenure as Executive Director at the Baltimore Educational Scholarship Trust, Amy established significant partnerships with key stakeholders in Baltimore around educational access and choice, founding The First Generation Affinity Group and The .Edu Project, both efforts to support first-generation low -income students in Baltimore. Prior to her administrative role at B.E.S.T., she served on its Board of Trustees. Currently, Amy serves as the Chairman of the Board for Next One Up, a non-profit supporting low income African American boys through mentorship, programming, academic support and college guidance.