Liz Scott is the Director of Human Resources and Community Relations in Burlington Township School District in New Jersey. She’s a self-described boy mom (“I’m the only woman in the house, and I absolutely love it”), whose happy place is Ocean City Maryland, whose faith brought her through breast cancer. She is also a passionate educator. We are thrilled to introduce you to her on this month’s “Front & Center”!
What was your first job in education?
I’ve actually been working here for 34 years, actually a little bit longer than that because my career started out as a substitute teacher.
As far as my background, I’m an alternate route baby. I went to Penn State, I’m a proud Nittany Lion. I graduated with a degree in labor relations and a minor in African American studies, so my dream was to be somewhere in the corporate world, the big corner office with the glass windows and all that stuff. But when I started subbing, I got the call that they needed a sub for the full year to teach music to middle and high school students, and I absolutely fell in love with teaching. I ended up going the alternate route and based on my degree, I was eligible for my elementary cert. I went from teaching middle and high school students to teaching first grade and I absolutely fell in love with it again.
If you could give any advice to yourself at the beginning of your career, what would it be?
I would probably tell myself to not be so hard on myself. I try to be excellent at everything, and a lot of times to a fault. My family would say that I’m a workaholic, but I try to have that balance. I’m one of those moms: I never miss a game. I never miss a track meet. At the same time, I always try to make sure everything is taken care of here at work, and what suffers is me. At 54 years old, I’m still trying to learn how to carve out time for me. So, I would tell myself, “Make sure you carve out that workplace/home balance and make sure you take care of you because you’re all that you have.”
Four years ago, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I’ll never forget, I was sitting here in my office when I got the phone call, and it was like somebody just punched me in my gut. Long story short, I’m four years cancer free, but I understand now why I went through that. And I saw it as an opportunity. Being in HR, people come to my office and they need someone to talk to, they need someone to understand and have that empathy. As the HR director, I think it’s just so important to have that people side of you.
But I would tell my younger self, take time for you, take time to smell the grass. You can do both but take that time to take care of you. Put the mask on yourself first to help everybody else.
What is one skill every HR Director should have?
Having those people skills. I think it’s more important that people understand and know that you truly care before they care about what you know. That’s the type of administrator that I am.
The other thing is, it’s about the smile. You’ve got to be able to smile and make people feel comfortable. I think that is the key to getting people to want to come work in your district. It’s that first interaction. First impressions are everything.
What was your biggest “win” over the last year, and how did you achieve it?
Last year we had 30+ positions we had to fill, and with those 30 we expanded our preschool program. As a result of that, we had to hire 10 pre-K teachers, and it was like, “Ooh, how are we going to do that?” Through nonstop recruitment, trying to think outside of the box, we were able to do that. That has been a huge win for us.
If I could throw a second one in, this past year we’ve expanded our efforts as an equity team, not only to train our staff and have critical conversations with our staff, but to have critical conversations with our community. It truly takes a village to do what we do.
What is the hardest challenge you’re facing in your role right now?
Hiring. When you go to a job fair and there are more recruiters there than students, you stop and scratch your head and say, “Okay, what’s going on?” I have never experienced what we’re experiencing right now. I pride myself and I tell the board, “We’re going to be one hundred percent fully staffed.” I couldn’t say that this year. You just have to do all that you can as a school district to keep people and it’s tough. It’s a very difficult time now, trying to do everything under the sun to recruit people.
We live in a digital age – how are you using software and technology to tackle the challenges faced by HR, specifically recruiting, hiring, and retaining teachers and staff?
When everything got shut down in 2020, I was panicked. “Okay, how do we do this?” It just so happened we had started having conversations with Frontline about further automating our [recruiting and hiring] system. I didn’t even think that it would be, “Oh, by the way, we’re closed. I need this automated within weeks.” And Frontline made it happen.
It worked. I have to say that was probably the best thing we could have ever done. The efficiency of interviews being done online now, I can schedule six interviews back to back to back and just keep things moving.
I interview people, they’re in a closet, they’re in their car, they’re in the park, and it has become natural. It’s okay, you are where you are! Let’s keep it rolling! It definitely has helped us in terms of being able to accommodate people. And the efficiency of getting rid of the paper — I don’t have to send you paper, you don’t have to come in and sign. I press a button, boom. You have everything back within seconds.
What is the best creative idea you have had as an HR Director that has made a difference in your role?
I talked earlier about people seeing you as a person and knowing that’s going to be reciprocated. We have a neighboring district and we thought one day, “Let’s team up and do a job fair together.” I put my PR hat on as well — we had to advertise.
So, we decided we would take a song and make up a quick little dance. We recorded it and put it out there, it was a riot. Affectionately, we were being called the “Dancing Directors.” It was our way of advertising, “Hey, come join the party. We’re two districts and we want to work with you.”
That was probably the funniest thing that I’ve done, and it got attention. “Hey, we saw you on Instagram. You’re the Dancing Directors.” Yeah, that’s us.
What will change most in education over the next 10 years?
With everything that I’m seeing now in terms of the shortages, I think it’s going to have a huge impact on what it looks like in the future. I think we’re seeing it now when we have companies that will give you a virtual teacher for hard-to-find certs, and never in a million years would I have ever thought that this would be the case.
One thing that will never change in society is that we will always have kids who need to be taught. The question is, how are we going to teach them? Are we going to have more virtual teachers teaching from anywhere in the world?
Is it ideal? Absolutely not. I firmly believe that our kids need to be in school with a teacher face to face. But desperate times, desperate measures. I think we are going to have to continue to navigate how we deliver instruction to our students.
What are you most hopeful about for the future of education?
I am hopeful that as a society we regain a love for teaching, that we begin to truly appreciate our educators. None of us go through this life without having a teacher. It’s time for us to look at the true value of our educators and make sure that we take care of them financially and understand that they are a necessity, they are a crucial part of who we are as human beings.
Back in the day, everybody wanted to be a teacher. I’m hoping that love comes back, that people will start to embrace it. It starts with us planting seeds in our littles, in our pre-K kids, our kindergarten kids, all the way through, so that when they graduate, they say, “You know what? I want to be a teacher because Ms. Scott had an impact on me.”
There is hope. We’re in a valley right now, but I know the tide will turn.
Ryan is a Customer Marketing Manager for the global award-winning Content Team at Frontline Education. He spends his time writing, podcasting, and talking to leaders in K-12 education.