Spring is a busy time of year in schools throughout the area as principals, human resource folks, and superintendents work to fill critically important teaching and administrative roles for the new school year beginning September 2022.
In the Needham Public Schools, we prioritize and emphasize the critical importance of the hiring process, and I am proud that we are much more selective than comparable communities. I am also proud that we are actively searching for candidates who are racially and ethnically diverse to ensure our students are growing and learning from people of all backgrounds.
I often tell principals that after providing for the safety and health of all students and staff, which is clearly Job # 1, their second priority is hiring a talented staff. Besides safety, there simply is no other important work to do than ensuring the people we place in the classroom and school offices are well qualified, thoroughly vetted, and focused on student needs. A child only gets a chance at 4th grade once, so we want to ensure the teacher we hire meets our standards and will nurture a strong learning community within the classroom, with the child as the center of attention.
This is also true for school leaders. My second most important responsibility as superintendent (Safety is Job #1!) is to make sure we cast a wide net to secure smart, creative, hardworking, and qualified individuals who are committed to academic excellence, the social and emotional needs of students, and building a dynamic and inclusive community. Research has shown that the strength of the building principal is directly related to the success of students, so we go above and beyond to ensure that we organize a lengthy and rigorous search process that results in the identification and hiring of top notch teachers and administrators.
What does the process look like? There are a several components as outlined in a recent administrative training session, including:
Recruitment of talented and diverse staff. Our district website shares the information about openings, and we also post on other websites and attend local job fairs with a particular focus on hiring for diversity. We are eager to consider non-traditional candidates who have capacity for growth and challenge, and we often post our positions for a long period of time to give as many folks as possible the opportunity to apply to Needham. We also contact universities and local district administrators to see, for example, if they know of an aspiring school leader we might tap for a role.
Principals and administrators screen applications and only bring in candidates we want to learn more about and who have the prerequisite skills and certification (or who will be able to secure the certification) for the specific role. We provide interview and bias training to ensure we are aware of our own blindspots and biases. Hiring teams are then organized and typically include teachers and school staff; parents and secondary students are often invited to participate as well. For example, during the recent Sunita L. Williams principal search about 20 5th grade students interviewed the finalists and then provided feedback on both individuals (Students always ask tough questions and their feedback is candid and spot on!).
After the hiring teams identify two or three finalists to move forward, we ask teacher candidates to teach an in person lesson either at one of our schools or at their school. After the lesson we will have a conversation with the candidate about how the lesson went and, importantly, we will talk to students to get their impressions.
Principals and administrators conduct additional reference checks on a desired candidate and complete a recommendation packet which is forwarded to my attention and a final interview with the teacher. While not every superintendent meets with recommended teacher candidates, I think it is crucial to interact with and review the qualifications of each individual before they are formally offered the position. It is time consuming to meet with dozens and dozens of candidates but, once again, it is the 2nd most important responsibility we have in the Needham Public Schools.
For administrators, we have the finalists return to the school for a full day of classroom observations, interviews with staff, conversations with students, and faculty and family meetings. Staff, students and families are asked to provide written feedback on an administrative candidate.
An additional step that many districts do not take but we see as a critical component in the search for a school leader is the site visit. We ask administrative and principal candidates to host a site visit to their school so a team of Needham staff can observe and then interview administrators, teachers, community members, students, and supervisors. Recently, for example, we sent a team to Denver to learn about a principal candidate and an assistant principal search team is heading to North Carolina to see that administrative candidate. It is important to explore where an assistant principal or principal candidate works and observe how they interact and lead in their school setting. This gives us a chance to have one on one conversations and candid discussions with the folks a candidate works with on a daily basis; it allows us a chance to see if the individual really “walks the talk.”
For administrative candidates additional reference checking, a written task and sometimes a review of one’s portfolio all round out the extensive search process. I typically schedule an additional one on one meeting with a finalist to review additional questions and to ensure their questions have been answered before an offer is made.
Our process is intense, inclusive and time consuming, and I believe it allows us to be choosy about who we bring on board in our schools. We are eager to continue our Spring 2022 hiring process as we work to ensure the best educators work with the amazing young people of the Needham Public Schools!