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Developing leadership qualities in school personnel administration

The personnel function in public education is multi-faceted and it is one in which all prospective or practicing administrators must have a solid base of knowledge. With the exception of promoting and protecting the well being of the the students, I believe that the personnel function is the most important responsibility of school administrators; in particular those who work at the building level, such as principals and assistant principals.

As a retired school superintendent and an adjunct professor who taught personnel classes for twenty years, I will describe what should be taught in a personnel course. I will include both content and method in this article.

One guiding principle is the fact that a good teacher has a positive impact on student learning; hence, the better we are at hiring, appraising, improving, and sometimes removing teachers, will result in improved educational outcomes. Before writing about the contest and methodology of the class, I want to discuss two anchoring strands that are woven into virtually every class.

The first is based on the fact that the personnel function in public schooling is fraught with legal peril. It is very easy for an unknowing administrator to make a mistake that can get the school district in trouble or one that prevents an administrator from justifyingly taking appropriate disciplinary action against an errant teacher.

Although one class is primarily devoted to legal matters, the law, especially personnel laws, are included in nearly every class. The second strand that is an inclusive part of most classes is collective bargaining and contractual interpretation. While the personnel course is not on collective bargaining the students must learn about how the daily functions of school district and building personal administration and practices are inextricably linked to the collective bargaining agreement.

I will now address the major content or topical areas that are taught, which will be followed by a discourse on the methodology for delivering the material to the students.

The content areas covered in the class are:

• Recruitment

• Selection

• Induction

• Appraisal

• Compensation

• Legal Recruitment (This is an area that more directly involves administrators who work in central office positions but it should be taught to all administrators or putative administrators.)

In this part of class the students will learn about how to recruit, the financial aspects of recruiting, how to write a position announcement, how to post positions in accordance with contractual stipulations, how to process applications and how to devise a calendar with a critical path toward eventual appointment and employment. Students are made aware of the fact that time is essential but that it should not adversely impact thoroughness.

The legal issues, such was discriminatory recruitment practices, are highlighted.

Selection - in this part of class the steps leading up to the actual recommendation for hiring are taught. Students learn about analyzing resumes, how to critique a letter of reference, doing reference checks, organizing an interviewing team, writing legal interview questions, limitations of interviews, candidate demonstrations of teaching, second round interviews, what works and what does not work in selecting candidates, the legal aspects of an offer and acceptance and what to do if a candidate rejects a job offer.

Induction - The why and how of an efficient and effective induction process is also a key ingredient in the curriculum. In this class students will learn how to inform the newly hired about the community, the district and the building to which they are assigned. Students are also taught the what and how of induction programs, which include informing the newly hired about benefits, technology, state mandated tests, curricula, day-to-day activities, requisitions, payroll, safely, discipline policy, confidentiality, special education requirements and the school handbook. In this section, I also cover the selection, assigning and duties of mentors.

Appraisal - Although most, if not all, students in administrative certification courses take a course on instructional supervision, I believe it to be important to include this in a personnel class. This particular class is more relevant to building level administrators. In this class I focus on the methods of supervision to the relationship of teaching and learning. Topics covered include the clinical method of observation, what to look for when observing teaching, how to write an observation report, teacher questioning techniques in the classroom, gauging student involvement, teaching strategies for diverse modes of learning, the characteristics of good teaching/teachers are pre and post observational conferences.

Compensation - This is an area that is determined by collective bargaining agreements; however, students should become familiarized to the variety of compensation packages available. They should also learn that compensation transcends salary and includes such items as health insurance, pension, and other factors impacting total compensation costs.I also believe that students should learn about trends that have a tendency to be popularized by non-educators in relationship to compensation. Hence, in this section, I teach topics such as merit pay, master teacher structure arrangements and diversified pay.

Legal - Although the legal aspect of the personnel process are infused into nearly each class, I do spend a class on purely legal issues related to personnel. Therefore, I cover topics such as teacher discipline, writing letters of reprimand, keeping paper trails, the process and practice of disciplinary hearings for personnel, progressive discipline, suspension of employees, termination procedures and the reporting of disciplinary actions.

In addition to course content the methodology of teaching is important for promoting knowledge, skills and understanding of the personnel process. The course is a blend of theory and practice. Hopefully, through a study of the content included in the class each student will develop a comprehensive base of knowledge about personnel that will provide a foundation for decision making.

However, and as in any course, the application of knowledge and development of thinking skills are vital. Each class begins with a simulated real world personnel problem, which requires students to develop options to select the optimal solution.

Classroom discussions are based on a Socratic model requiring students discuss the context through analysis. The students are also required compete projects that call for the application of what has been taught and learned.

Specifically, each student is required to devise a set of interview questions for prospective teachers and administrators; each student is required to write a job announcement/advertisement with a timeline for hiring and associated costs and each students is required to write his/her simulations about a personnel problem with an answer.

Finally I must add that the content and topics are not static; in fact, change seems to be the norm! Therefore, it is important for the person teaching the course to remain up to date on all issues, which include trends in employment, certification, legal decisions and management concepts. I cannot overemphasize the importance of the personnel function for promoting a quality education for all students.

We live in a world that requires an educated citizenry for both individual and scientific advancement. The first step in this process is to hire the best professionals available and after they are hired and placed, to maintain a high caliber of performance.

Who we hire matters and a comprehensive, knowledge based and effective personnel process can improve teaching and learning.

Robert L. Urzillo is the former superintendent of the Blue Mountain School District in Pennsylvania, and now serves as an adjunct professor.