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Beat the Hiring Frenzy

To get the most qualified candidates, you need to be online

Whether your district hires two or 2,000 teachers each year, it's a challenging process. First, you need to make sure you're tapping into the best pool of candidates. Then you have to find highly qualified people who do what you're looking for and are a good fit for your district. And you have to do all of this quickly, since, according to a 2003 study from The New Teacher Project, 31 percent to 60 percent of applicants for four urban districts withdrew from the hiring process because they were fed up with waiting for offers. With the average cost to hire, recruit and lose a teacher totaling $50,000, and with teacher turnover rates at 16 percent (compared with 12 percent for other professions), it's become increasingly important to perfect your hiring process if you haven't already.

Luckily, there are plenty of options available to help you do just that. A number of companies have created online systems that streamline the entire process. These offerings help districts save time and become more efficient by cutting down on (in some cases eliminating) paper, tracking candidates and improving customer service.

"It currently takes far too long months, sometimes for a teacher to apply and receive a confirmation of hiring," says Tom Carroll, president of the National Commission on Teaching and America's Future. "Using online applications and a more streamlined hiring process is an important first step toward moving away from a very antiquated process that's now in place."

Say Goodbye to Paper

Lisa Kudelka is the human resources manager for Bismarck (N.D.) Public Schools. It's the second-largest district in the state, with 10,000 students and 820 teachers. Each spring, Kudelka's staff receives between 800 and 1,000 applications. The paperwork is overwhelming. "We couldn't even get back to people to tell them that a job was filled," she says. Kudelka knew she had to provide better customer service.

Before automation, staff would copy all the materials and put them in different files for principals, who'd be forced to come to the central office and spend hours sorting through applications. "It was highly inconvenient, applications got lost and it was a real nightmare," says Kudelka.

Since half of her applications come from new graduates who are comfortable with technology, Kudelka was determined to create a paperless system. At first, she posted her application form on the school's Web site, where users could type in their answers, but still had to print and mail the application. She spent five years seeking a truly paperless solution, and finally found it at last year's American Association of School Personnel Administrators conference.

Now, Kudelka's team uses edZapp. She chose it for several reasons. First, because it is hosted on edZapp's server, she didn't need have to hire IT people or purchase any hardware or software. Second, the price was right: For less than $10,000, she got a highly customized product. "Everything is done via e-mail now," says Kudelka, "so we're saving on copying, postage and staffing costs. I think we'll come out even."

Candidates complete their applications on the Web. If they are unable to upload a transcript, they send it to edZapp, where it's scanned and uploaded to their file. (If they mistakenly send it to Kudelka, she faxes it to edZapp.) Once an application is online, Kudelka can flag, say, 10 people for a social studies position and ask her principal to check them out. All the principal has to do is log on from his desk to narrow it down, and then his hiring people can check out the remaining candidates.

"Some of the products we looked at required a scanner," says Kudelka. "Other had upfront IT costs. This was the only option that took the entire IT and financial burden off our plate."

Do It Yourself (with Tech Experts)

For Mark Frost, assistant superintendent for human resource services at the Park Hill School District in Kansas City, Mo., the solution was to build it himself. His staff receives 2,000 applications a year and hires about 100 teachers and 400 classified staff members. "We were doing things fairly typically," says Frost. "We'd receive paper applications, which I'd take home, screen, and make notes on. Then we'd make a file folder for each application and put it in a cabinet." As with Kudelko's district, Frost's staff would make photocopies or scan the applications and e-mail them to administrators. "There was lots of secretarial time at the copier and lots of paper management."

Four years ago, Frost decided to improve the system. He had worked with a local software developer, Netchemia, and asked the firm to help him create an online hiring solution. The team took a couple of years to develop SchoolRecruiter. It works in pretty much the same way as edZapp, only applicants need to mail their letters of recommendation and transcripts to Park Hill, where Frost's secretary scans and uploads them.

The nice thing about creating something is that you can continue to modify it. A couple of months ago, Frost asked the developers to add a reference check form. "We had been doing it on paper; now we can fill it out online so it stays with the application." Netchemia also developed a professional development area that lets Frost's staff track which teachers have completed which courses and are due for pay increases.

?We couldn?t even get back to people to tell them that a job was filled. ? It was highly inconvenient, applications got lost and it was a nightmare.?

Frost says one of the best things about automating the process is that he can go through applications wherever he has Internet access. "During the last five days of Christmas break, I went through 150 applications. I can insert comments, direct an applicant to my secretary to set up interviews or send one to different administrators to set up interviews. It's all integrated and paperless." He also appreciates that candidates automatically receive a note to let them know their application has been received. In addition, the system has robust reporting features. Once Frost has interviewed and scored a candidate, he can generate a list of applicants who have scored a four or five and are licensed to teach chemistry.

"Overall, we've saved lots of time and gained a ton of efficiency," says Frost. "In the past, if we wanted to bring in 200 people for a Park Hill job fair, we'd have to bring up individual e-mails. Now we can go to our database of candidates, click the 200 people we want to invite, and write one e-mail that immediately gets sent to all of them."

He's also pleased with the timeliness factor. Before automation, it could take up to five days for an administrator to see a completed application and get a secretary to set up an interview. Today, that administrator can get a completed application five seconds after Frost reviews it and quickly make contact.

Of course, customized development doesn't come cheap. Frost estimates he's spent around $25,000 in the development process. [For a smaller district of only 1,000 students, the SchoolRecruiter ASP model would cost less than $10,000 per year.] Frost recommends looking at packages that offer flexibility, since most districts have different certification requirements and needs. He also says to make sure the product is expandable, because once you automate this process you'll most likely want to automate other areas.

Simple and Affordable

For smaller districts with tighter budgets, General ASP might be the right fit. Barberton City Schools in Barberton, Ohio, hires about 20 teachers each year. When Personal Director Joe Clark started last summer, his first task was to automate the system. Clark, a former principal, had used an online application system through the county and had not enjoyed the experience. "There were 17 different districts and we all had different demographics. People would apply but you didn't know if they wanted your district until you contacted them. In seven years, I don't think I hired anyone."

This time, Clark wanted a tool built for his district's needs. He found General ASP to be very user friendly and its $2,000 price tag to be extremely affordable. "I can look at a whole application on one page," says Clark. "The old system used several pages and you had to wait for them to load." Although he's been using this system for only this year, he's looking forward to hiring teachers through it this summer. "We've filled two long-term substitute positions and it's worked out well," he says. "For me, the biggest thing is knowing that someone wants to work here."

Larry Lobert, assistant superintendent for human resources for Grosse Pointe Public Schools in Mich., also uses General ASP. His district typically hires between 30 and 50 teachers a year from as many as 3,000 applicants. Products like this, says Lobert, are essential for districts, even small ones, since hiring has become so competitive. "If you're still in the paper era, you're out of the game," he says. "Candidates are hired before you know they exist." Lobert says that in the mid-80s, it could take up to six weeks to hire a math teacher. Today, he can post an opening at 3 p.m. and have applicants an hour later. "If you're looking for the only AI teacher in the state or one of the few physics teachers, you have to be online."

Although online hiring has solved many districts' goal to run more efficient hiring systems, it's just the beginning, says NCTAF's Carroll. "Online hiring alone won't solve the cumbersome processes in districts, in terms of the length of time it takes for people to go from position to position or for principals to have the option to bid on candidates within or outside of the district." Carroll says automation is essential but that we have to look at other hiring procedures that are cumbersome and antiquated and stand in the way of putting highly qualified teachers in high-priority schools.,,

Ellen Ullman is features editor.