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Why District Leaders Should Ignore Data – and Focus on Analytics


“The idea that ‘data is king’ still has merit. The difference between now and ten years ago, however, is that there is no shortage of data. The challenge now is to mine the information to find relationships that will help school districts improve.”

So say the authors of Leading with Resolve and Mastery: Competency-Based Strategies for Superintendent Success, a book released earlier this year on the role of the superintendent. And the statement rings true for many school districts. With better K-12 software systems and access to technology, most districts are swimming – maybe even drowning – in data.

As one director of human resources, Dale Fisher, said, “Districts are data-rich, information-poor.”

The authors point out in their book that it’s the job of the superintendent to “see the forest for the trees.” To effectively lead, superintendents and other district leaders must acquire the tools and skills to not only gather data, but to analyze and use it for strategic decision-making.

But how?

Knowing what to monitor, when to measure it, how to interpret the results, and what, if any, changes need to be made is crucial,” the authors point out. But with many priorities and programs competing for attention, it’s not always easy to identify which key performance indicators (KPIs) to monitor to capture an accurate snapshot of district performance.

To help districts get started, the book offers several key categories of performance indicators, along with examples of each. One category starting to get increased attention for districts is monitoring analytics for K-12 human resources or “human capital management (HCM).” While the private sector has long focused on analytics in HCM, this area is just starting to get attention in K-12. These could include KPIs like:

  • Monitoring teacher absenteeism
  • Leveraging best practices in recruiting, hiring, developing and retaining staff
  • Tracking teacher engagement in professional learning
  • Adequate staffing to support student instruction

The book calls out the value of benchmarking – both internally and externally – to get a true picture of district performance. Forward-thinking superintendents and district leaders are recognizing the importance of this type of measurement not only for student data but for employee data, as well.

As an example, look at Dr. Richard Labbe, Superintendent at Sayreville Public Schools in New Jersey. Dr. Labbe is leveraging benchmark tools within his district’s Human Resources solution, Frontline Absence & Time, to instantly compare their performance around employee absences and substitute fulfillment to others in their state, similar locales and nationwide.

“We as a school district are committed to progressing. We feel that the more we progress, the better outcomes we’re going to promote for our students,” says Dr. Labbe. “Having the ability to take in data and utilize that data to compare it against state and national trends – it’s incredibly valuable to us.”

The book also highlights dashboards as an effective way for leaders to get at-a-glance information on the performance of the district – and to “tell a story of where your district has been, where it is, and where it is going.” K-12 human capital management solutions are beginning to incorporate these dashboards into their platform to enable real-time strategic decision-making.

The best news is that you don’t have to have all the answers to get started. Often, it’s simply the practice of making the KPIs visible and monitoring them that drives cross-departmental collaboration around strategic HCM decision-making. As the authors shared:

“Just the mere fact of having metrics and reviewing them drives change. It empowers schools, their administrative staff, and their board members to make changes that are impactful and not merely cosmetic.”

Data can be relative – but benchmarking against validated data gives you an indicator of your performance compared to other districts. Want to learn how Frontline’s Institute Report puts benchmarking data at your fingertips? Learn more about the report

Allison Wert

Allison (Ali) Wert is the former Content Marketing Manager of the award-winning content team at Frontline Education. She has nearly 10 years' experience writing about education topics, including 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.