Imagine all the resources you’d need to build a new charter school from the ground up in New York City. Do mounds of textbooks or new computers come to mind? Maybe walls covered with chalkboards or clusters of wooden desks? You’re getting somewhere. But if you ask the staff at Dr. Richard Izquierdo Health and Science Charter School (HSCS), no resource compares in value to one core piece: the right group of teachers. Today, HSCS’s seamless recruiting process is proof that they take hiring seriously. Yet it wasn’t always that way.
In January 2017, the school’s hiring committee was bogged down by a decentralized interview process. With no time to build a structured approach, they were ensnared in a cycle of reactive hiring pushes. When Lead Teacher Leah Weiser took the reins to reverse the pattern, she began by investing in Lever, and continued to make sweeping changes to their hiring strategy. Since, HSCS has cut their time to hire in half, doubled team-wide involvement in hiring, and more. Below, read our interview with Leah to learn how she and her team achieved such impressive results.
When you decided to take over HSCS’s hiring process, you were a new charter school teacher who’d never recruited before. Why did you do it?
I was hired as a math teacher through Teach for America in 2014. Our school was founded in 2010, so we only had grades 6-10 when I started, and we were adding a new grade each year. Our school was growing fast, and we needed to hire staff for all the new students we were bringing in.
Ultimately, we planned to have approximately 110 students in each grade, and we had to hire eight teachers per grade to cover our core content areas – English, Math, Social Studies, and Science. We were beginning to implement a universal co-teaching model, wherein every classroom would have two qualified, certified teachers as opposed to one. Then, consider that we needed to hire teachers for more specialized courses like Spanish and our special ed program, and you can see there was a ton of hiring to do.
What challenges did you face when you first took over hiring?
Up until last year, we didn’t have one person in charge of hiring – it was managed by a committee of leaders. We were also hiring ad hoc throughout the year.
To put it simply, our system for success was nonexistent. Our 7-person hiring committee would only receive resumes through Indeed and emails from our principal. Our screening process worked like this: first, our principal’s assistant would print out candidate resumes and put them on his desk. Then, they would sit there for a while until he sorted through them, wrote down “Leah” or whoever he wanted to reach out, and gave the resumes back to his assistant. Finally, his assistant would give those papers to the designated interviewers, and they’d conduct the phone screens.
It was a very slow, unproductive process. Five people would weigh in before each hiring decision was made. I remember that one of our teachers left in September 2016, and it took us until February 2017 to fill the role. We kept losing candidates to other schools because they were hearing from them more quickly.
Ultimately, this inefficiency was putting students at a disadvantage because they didn’t have both teachers in their classroom. As I mentioned, our classes are co-taught, and so our students weren’t getting the full attention we strove for.
What did you do to fix these inefficiencies?
First, I started managing all of our recruiting efforts with the help of our principal. I would begin by conducting the sourcing, phone interview, and logistics. I made up my own title as hiring coordinator so that candidates knew they could come to me with any questions, that I’d be the main person managing their process. But don’t forget: I had two other roles at the time, so I couldn’t do all the phone screens myself! I was also teaching two algebra classes and helping our lead teacher manage the high school classes.
To get more help, I trained a more structured hiring committee to put candidates through phone screens and onsite interviews. We also made in-person visits more consistent for each candidate. They had a tour first, then met with a class and taught a demo lesson, and finally met with our principal and other school leaders. Being consistent about this practice made it easier to compare candidates equally, because they were all undergoing the same evaluation when we met them.
Then, we decided to invest in an applicant tracking system. We went through demos with 4 or 5 options and ultimately chose Lever. I liked that Lever centralized all candidate profiles and interactions. I knew I wouldn’t receive paper or email resumes in different ways – all communication could be in one portal. I also loved that I’d be able to communicate with my hiring committee through @ mentions, give them clear roles through creating Lever interview rubrics, and easily message all of our candidates. I have to say: Lever has automated EVERYTHING for us. We went from having everything on paper and, honestly, in people’s memories, to having it all documented and streamlined through Lever.
What results have you seen since?
Since I joined in 2014, our org has almost tripled in size – from 48 to 140 employees. We’ve made a ton of small but impactful changes. In the past, we would sometimes conduct a phone interview and the candidate wouldn’t move forward in the process for two weeks. I remember having a great conversation with a candidate, but we didn’t ask him to come in for an onsite for 2.5 weeks. To change that, I sent Kyle (our Lever implementation specialist) a phone interview rubric I made, and he inputted it into Lever so that everyone could use it and see each other’s feedback. Now, our team is more excited to submit their feedback, and candidates hear back from us within 5 days or less. Through making changes like this, we’ve been able to improve our recruiting analytics by cutting our time to hire in half and double team-wide involvement in hiring. Before, our hiring committee was 7 people, and now we’ve doubled in size to 16.
Finally, the candidate experience is more consistent. Before, the math department ran a different hiring process than social studies, for example. Or our middle school might run their hiring differently than high school. Now, their processes are actually aligned, so we know that our candidates will end up with similar expectations for their experience here.
What’s unique about hiring at a charter school, and how do change your process accordingly?
Charter schools often have specific philosophies that aren’t used in other districts, so finding the right candidates can be hard. We’re a co-taught school, for example, so candidates have to like working side by side with another teacher each day. To find teachers who share our ideals and goals, we created four hiring values – such as “eagerness to collaborate” and “growth mindset” – and we’ve based our phone screen questions on them. We’ve also imbued those values into other parts of the hiring process.
It’s also uniquely difficult to retain teachers. We’re an extra-governmental organization, so we can’t offer pension and union benefits. Sometimes, people will come work here for a few years, but they don’t see it as the place they’ll spend their career. To avoid that, we try to effectively gauge their investment during the recruiting process. Do we think they’ll really commit to the community we have here? We’ve also been brainstorming other ideas on how to retain talent: initiatives like bonuses and raises that are linked to performance, paying more than public schools do, and conveying the immense value in working at a charter school.
Final question: what is your advice for other teachers who are managing recruiting?
My best advice is this: be very strategic and explicit about how each member of your hiring team can get involved in the hiring process. You can’t do it all on your own while also being a teacher. Remember your fellow teachers want to give you help when they can, so don’t be afraid to ask for it.
Thank you to Leah and the rest of the HSCS staff for sharing your hiring story with us! We’re inspired by your ability to teach hundreds of students and run a strategic recruiting process on the side.
To learn more about the school’s current openings and overall mission, visit their jobs page here.