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7 AASPA Conference Takeaways for K-12 HR Leaders

Human Resources

With nearly 400 school district administrators in attendance, AASPA (the American Association for School Personnel Administrators) just wrapped up another great Annual Conference. Hosted in beautiful Portland, Oregon, the AASPA Annual Conference brought together K-12 HR leaders from hundreds of school districts across the country.

I find that AASPA is a good indicator of the trends in K-12 and current issues facing personnel administrators. From a comprehensive lineup of 80+ clinics and workshops to the conversations around meals and the exhibit hall, here are the Top 7 Trends I noticed from this year’s conference.

1. Thinking Strategically, Not Tactically

You’re busy; there’s no question about it! But the hundreds of attendees at AASPA were proof alone that HR professionals want to take or rather make — the time to think strategically about their profession.

One of the challenges at AASPA this year was to make sure you have the systems in place to give yourself time to think strategically. Evaluate your day-to-day work and identify your most tedious, time-consuming tasks. Are these tasks you could automate with an electronic system? This change may be an investment well worth it if it gives you, your team and your district what they need: a strategic HR district leader.

2. Grappling With Teacher Absences

Interest has never been higher in teacher absences. In a packed session, consultants Jim O’Halloran and Hank Harris covered three important teacher absence reports and their implications for school districts. Raegan Miller, the author of two of the studies, was in the room and provided some additional insights, including encouragement to use the term “teacher absence” rather than the more derogatory “teacher absenteeism.”

Districts are just beginning to dig into this complicated — and costly  issue. As the NCTQ study stated, “We may be overlooking one of the most basic, solvable and cost effective reasons why schools may fail to make educational progress.”

The speakers recommended addressing the teacher absence issue head-on at the school level by:

1) Shining the light on school-level absence data
2) Focusing on increasing employee engagement
3) Offering employee attendance incentives
4) Increasing accountability for discretionary absences

The clinic also touched on the nationwide substitute teacher shortage and encouraged districts to change the conversation: is it a substitute shortage or a teacher absence issue?

3. Preparing for the Affordable Care Act

We’re well down the road of the Affordable Care Act now, but the topic was still top of mind this year.

Several clinics explored the many facets of the complicated legislation, the timeline and the urgency of preparing now for the 2015 requirements. Districts shared their strategies for managing their employees, especially part-time employees and substitutes, and emphasized the importance of collecting the required data now in preparation for 2015.

As always, consulting your legal counsel is a must, as well.

4. Integrating Your Systems

I asked Paul Montgomery, an AASPA attendee since 1994, what the biggest change is that he’s noticed over the years at AASPA. He said the demand for integrated systems.

“It used to be that vendors would talk to districts about integrating their software systems and there was some interest. But now, districts are expecting it,” Paul said.

It was obvious from the variety of vendors in the exhibit hall, that the K-12 Human Capital Management software space is growing and maturing. Districts expect software systems from multiple vendors to “play well together” and even more so are beginning to look for all-in-one solutions to K-12 administrative needs.

5. Dealing With the “Politics” of Education

In both the sessions and casual conversations, it was obvious that HR professionals in K-12 are dealing with a whole lot of “politics.” From Common Core debates to changing healthcare legislations, HR administrators frequently find themselves caught in the middle.

Keynote speaker Dave Weber offered this advice: Don’t put up barriers where there aren’t any.

While you certainly do face huge barriers and often have your hands tied, don’t give up. Evaluate which roadblocks are truly insurmountable and which are challenges that you can fight and overcome.

6. Embracing Your Role as a Leader

In your role, you have the opportunity to influence the culture of the entire district. And as Dave Weber said, “Culture is the most powerful source of change.”

Despite the red tape, budget cuts and constant demands on your time, determine to focus on manageable goals. Know where you’re going by deciding on your vision for your department and always keeping that vision in front of you. With small, attainable milestones, you can keep progressing towards your goals.

Remember, others are watching you and will be either discouraged or inspired by your attitude and determination!

7. Remembering Why You’re in HR

When your putting in more long hours or addressing another disciplinary issue, it’s hard to remember why you’re working so hard. But always remember, you’re there for the students.

As the Harvard Principal Center said, “The most powerful predictor of student achievement is the quality of relationships among the staff.”

As the gateway to the district, you impact that culture more than anyone else. You’re the one who brings in qualified, caring teachers. You’re the one watching out for the safety, reputation and environment of your district, your staff and every student that comes through your district. You are impacting student achievement every day.

It’s worth it!

Allison Wert

Allison (Ali) Wert is the Content Marketing Manager of the award-winning content team at Frontline Education. She has been writing about education topics for nearly 10 years and specializes in best practices for K-12 strategic human capital management. Under her leadership, the team at Frontline was recognized as the Winner of CMA's 2017 Project of the Year and Best Content Marketing Program. Ali also helps to manage marketing for the Frontline Research & Learning Institute and The Line.