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Professional Opinion

Strategies for resolving employee issues in K12

Districts form leadership teams and take listening tours to better connect with staff

Whether it results from misinformation, staff complaints or faculty disagreements about new policies, all districts face employee issues. Some have learned better than others how to address problems early, before they erupt.

“In large districts, there’s more opportunity for a communication breakdown,” says Jeff Filloon, HR director at Chandler USD in Arizona. “Most problems can be solved with good, clear, accurate communications.”

Chandler USD provides a back-to-school video each year for its 5,000 faculty and staff. The one-hour video covers key contacts for questions about paychecks, benefits and other work-related issues; best practices for student supervision; compliance issues and mandatory reporting; and department expectations of employees.

Culture vs. strategy

Several years ago, Jefferson County Schools in West Virginia hired Superintendent Bondy Shay Gibson to change the district’s tactical strategy for solving issues among its 1,250 employees.

“Previously, our culture was all about driving stats and driving educational scores and results,” says Joseph Pettiford, chief human resources officer for the district. “This approach set up unrealistic expectations that created discouraging and stressful work experiences.”

Under Gibson’s guidance, the district formed a leadership team of six members from different work areas, ranging from bus driver to teacher. The variety of insights have led to holistic solutions.

The team made great strides by applying fresh perspectives to both district and employee problems. It designed a six-month, in-house program to address the mass exodus of roughly 25 percent of its retiring school administrators.

Show you care

HR professionals in other districts go out of their way to listen to employee concerns. When Cynthia Rincon became chief of human capital management at Fort Worth ISD in Texas, she heard rumblings from the 2,500 employees in operations about pay.

“The employees reached out to her to come to their meetings and listen to their concerns,” says Yassmin Lee, executive director for the district’s talent acquisition and development. At the meetings, Lee says Rincon was honest about things that could be easily resolved and systemic issues that required more time to fix.

Rincon is currently working on a $1- to $2-per-hour pay raise for some operations staff as well as additional training and development.

If employees believe that their issues are being heard and addressed, says Lee, they feel that their employer cares about them, which only helps enhance employee engagement and retention.

Team Liberty

The 1,800 employees at Liberty Public Schools in Missouri are represented by “Team Liberty,” a cross-section of 22 staff or faculty who address concerns that generally impact more than 40 percent of any work unit.  Little falls through the cracks, says Robert Vogelaar, the district’s assistant superintendent of human resources.

The team routes individual concerns to the appropriate administrators, who then report how an issue was resolved.

“We created bylaws and a constitution for Team Liberty that explain how people are selected, the groups they represent, the three areas they’re charged with—work life, compensation and benefits—and how we deliberate and select a facilitator,” says Vogelaar.

Advance planning

Other districts rely on continual communication between teams and administrators. Throughout the school year, Nicole Regan, HR supervisor at Lincoln Public Schools in Nebraska, visits the district’s 18 schools to address employee concerns.

Our guiding mantra is ‘No Surprises’ ” she says. “You need strong communication, strong transparency and strong collaboration.”


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