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HR’s Back-to-School Checklist

Human Resources

It’s that time of year again — back-to-school season. Your mailbox is full of advertisements for school supplies (even if you don’t have school-aged children), and you’re busy, busy, busy. It’s a hectic few weeks in the Human Resources department, and you’re working overtime to get through everything on time.

You can do it! This busy period will be over soon enough, and you’ll be sipping pumpkin spice-flavored everything before you know it. So, let’s lend some clarity to the tornado of tasks you need to get done with our back-to-school checklist.

1. Fill all open teaching positions

Do you have more classrooms than teachers? If all of your teaching positions are filled, congratulations! Make sure all of your new hires have completed the onboarding process and are set up for success. This includes getting them access to the technology they need, like their computer and email, as well as any online systems used in the district.

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But if you still have open positions — whether due to a shortage of qualified applicants, late resignations, candidates accepting jobs elsewhere or a slow hiring process — it’s time to get cracking. You know how important it is to have positions filled before students return — parents won’t be thrilled if their children start the year with substitute teachers. But late-summer hiring efforts are often hampered by smaller applicant pools and less-qualified candidates, so you may want to carve out some time to recruit potential applicants more proactively.

2. Distribute employee handbook and other policies for employee acknowledgement

Do you have all the policy acknowledgements you need from each employee? Making sure that you have signed agreements from each staff member helps ensure that district policies are followed and protects the district in case rules are broken.

For example, you may wish to have a record that each employee has read and acknowledged your district’s:

  • Computer Network Usage Agreement / Technology Policy
  • Employee Handbook Acknowledgement
  • District Corporal Punishment Acknowledgement
  • Sexual Harassment Policy Acknowledgement
  • FERPA Acknowledgement
  • Policy Updates
  • Code of Ethics

It can be tough to track down which individual forms have been completed and returned for all the employees in the district, especially when you have so much else going on. For that reason, you may want to consider implementing an employee information system that manages the paperwork online and automatically tracks what forms still need to be completed, and by whom.

3. Have updated records for each employee

Before school starts, it’s a good idea to make sure all of your personnel files are up-to-date. It’s best to have things like payroll details double-checked before school is underway. And, you’ll want to ensure that records such as employees’ contact information and emergency contacts are still accurate.

If you still manage this information manually, stored in rows of filing cabinets, it might be a chore to update — but it’s necessary! You don’t want to find yourself in a situation where you need to get in contact with an employee’s family in case of emergency but can’t find the right name or phone number. If your district uses an online human resources information system (HRIS), it should be a simple matter of sending out a reminder to all employees to update their information through the self-service portal.

4. Share the calendar of important dates with staff

Do all staff members know important dates throughout the school year, beyond what’s posted on the academic calendar? Of course, employees need to know things like when spring break will fall, but there’s more going on than school closings. Make sure everyone is aware of what to expect (and when) to avoid surprises down the road.

For example, you might want to publish a list of payroll dates, so everyone can plan their budget around when they’ll be paid. Plus, you might want to make sure that educators are aware of the evaluation timeline, dates for professional development events or “no vacation allowed” periods.

5. Ensure that substitutes are ready to work

The first month or two of school may not be high-absence times, but now is the time to prepare your substitute pool. Do they know everything they need to know in order to feel comfortable taking an assignment? Make sure that substitutes are set up in your absence and substitute management system and are able to see jobs they’re eligible for. You’ll also want to make sure that new substitutes are trained on how to take jobs in the district and are clear on district expectations.

Beyond the logistics of making sure substitutes know how to find jobs in the district, you’ll also want to be proactive in engaging them so they want to work in your classrooms. Data from the Frontline Research & Learning Institute shows that on average, half of all substitutes aren’t taking jobs. So even if you have a large substitute pool, you could still be at risk of a sub shortage.

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6. Check in with school leaders

HR isn’t the only hectic place to be during back-to-school season — principals have a lot to do to prepare, too! Set aside some time to check in with your school leaders and make sure they have everything they need to support their staff, from Day 1 and beyond. School leaders can have a significant impact on teacher absenteeism and retention rates, so it’s important that they have the resources they need to support the district’s human capital management strategy.

Newer principals in particular may benefit from some extra support — they may have tons of experience in instruction, but not as much in personnel management. That’s where you can lend your expertise and help them craft a school culture of continual improvement and positivity.

7. Set at least one S.M.A.R.T. goal for the school year

A S.M.A.R.T. goal is: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Timely. So, if your district has had fill rates of about 70 percent for the past few years, your goal might be to raise fill rates to 85 percent over the next 18 months. This goal meets the S.M.A.R.T. criteria because it is:

  • Specific: You’ve defined a clear goal that focuses on one objective, which is raising fill rates.
  • Measurable: You will be able to track your progress and have evidence that you have met the goal. Fill rates are a metric that you can track quantitatively.
  • Attainable: If your district historically has had trouble finding enough substitutes, it’s probably not pragmatic to believe that you’ll suddenly achieve 100 percent fill rates in one year. If you do, that’s fantastic — but keep expectations realistic. 85 percent is slightly higher than the national average, so it’s not too out of reach if your fill rates are currently at 70 percent.
  • Relevant: Since the hypothetical district in this example has historically had low fill rates — leading to lost instructional time and the loss of planning time for teachers — wanting a higher fill rate is directly relevant to the HR team’s strategy of supporting employees and students.
  • Timely: Naming a timeframe for when a goal will be achieved makes it more likely that you’ll actually reach it. Giving yourself 18 months gives you time to identify new strategies, put them into play and reap the rewards. It takes time to build a strong substitute program!

8. Plan your own professional development

Finally, think about your own professional growth. What will you do this year to become an even more effective HR leader? As busy as you are, dedicating time to your own learning will help the district in the long run. Whether you pick a topic to study up on in-depth, attend a conference to learn about a variety of HR issues or register for a certification course to learn more about the systems you use, plan for it now.

Looking for a conference that will help you gain new insights that can immediately improve the way you work? Check out Insights 2020! 

Annie GrunwellAnnie Buttner

Annie is a writer and part of the award-winning content team at Frontline Education. She's passionate about learning, exploring data and sharing knowledge. Her specialties include substitute management, the K-12 staffing shortage, and best practices in human capital management.

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