DA op-ed: Common problems, uncommon approaches

HR professionals use progressive strategies to tackle traditional challenges—from health care to customer service
By: | Issue: September, 2019
August 1, 2019
gettyimages.com: tudmeak

Carol Patton is a Las Vegas-based writer who specializes in human resources issues.

Like many employers, Great Falls Public Schools in Montana was confronted by soaring health care costs for its 1,900 employees serving students in preschool through high school. So last year, the district, which offers a self-insured group health plan, opened on-site clinics at two schools, says Kerry Dattilo, HR director. A third clinic is planned for next year.

Each clinic is managed and staffed by Alluvion Health. Employees have year-round access to the on-site clinics, or to local clinics, for physician referrals or free primary care services, such as preventive screenings, lab tests and mental health counseling.

“We want people accessing primary care at the early stages before health issues become a crisis,” says Dattilo. “Since it’s the first year of trying this route and focusing on wellness and primary care, our hope is that we’ll see long-term benefits.”

Of the 500 employees who visited the on-site clinics last year for a monthly screening, she says 28% returned for additional services.

Taking a fresh approach

Every school district struggles with a wide variety of HR challenges often involving health care or high teacher turnover. Some HR professionals, weary of addressing the same district problems, are experimenting with fresh or creative approaches. Oftentimes, that can mean the difference between effectively managing issues or losing control of them.

Back at Great Falls, another HR challenge was high turnover for classified staff, including crossing guards and food service workers. HR created online applications to eliminate the need for job seekers to prepare and submit cover letters and résumés. The district then partnered with a local job service and has since participated in two job fairs. At one event, Dattilo says HR was able to fill all seven open custodial positions in just one morning.

Fresh approaches can mean the difference between effectively managing issues or losing control of them.

Leaving your desk

In 2013, the 800 teachers and staff at Maryville City Schools in Tennessee were challenged by HR Director Rick Wilson to create stronger relationships with students, parents, vendors and other staffers.

The 18 staffers in the central office were tasked with visiting one district school every nine weeks. They could watch a third-grade performance, for example, or meet informally with the school’s teachers and staff. The practice continues to this day.

“It’s refreshing for them to get out from behind their desks and actually see people versus answering emails,” says Wilson, who believes that meeting other employees has motivated central office staff to enhance their job performance.

Trimming turnover

Meanwhile, HR at Indianapolis Public Schools experienced a different challenge. No one really owned professional learning at the district, says Mindy Schlegel, HR officer. “We were really trying to align both resources and strategy across the district.”

In addition, the district had a yearly teacher turnover rate of nearly 25%, and teacher survey responses revealed a lack of district support.

Three areas are being targeted with help from a $650,000 corporate grant:
• leadership and personal development to help administrators improve decision-making
• training for emerging leaders at the central office
• the launch of a two-year induction program for new teachers to boost morale, engagement, retention rates and in-house promotions

The goal is to build a self-sustaining training infrastructure, Schlegel says. “If we can start to edge in on turnover, that would be ideal.”

Carol Patton is a Las Vegas-based writer who specializes in human resources issues.