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Field Trip: K-12’s Balancing Act of Workforce Oversight


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This episode of Field Trip is the first in a four-episode series about workforce oversight in K-12, with Mitch Welch from Frontline Education and Dr. Sundie Dahlkamp, Executive Director of Human Resource Services at Pearland Independent School District. Mitch and Sundie delve into workforce oversight and its importance and continued evolution in education.

They also contrast the implications of workforce oversight with workforce insight, highlighting the need for both in achieving efficient data-driven decision making. Stay tuned for a deep dive into how these concepts shape K-12 education, and why striking the balance between hard data and human elements is crucial in school administration.


00:00 – Introduction

01:02 – Understanding Workforce Oversight

02:22 – The Challenges of Workforce Oversight in Education

06:13 – The Importance of Workforce Insight

08:33 – Balancing Oversight and Insight in Education

10:26 – Closing Remarks and Next Episode Preview

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Full Transcript  

RYAN ESTES: Hi everyone, and welcome to another episode of Field Trip. I’m Ryan Estes, and today I’m joined by two very special guests. The first is my colleague here at Frontline Education, Mitch Welch. Mitch spends his time working with school districts and helping them think through processes and systems in their human resources departments.


And Mitch, I always love working with you, but I think this is your first time on Field Trip, so I’m glad to have you here.


MITCH WELCH: Thanks. Thanks for having me. I’m excited.


RYAN: My other guest is Dr. Sundie Dahlkamp, Executive Director of Human Resource Services at Pearland Independent School District in Texas. Sundie, again, thanks for joining us.


DR. SUNDIE DAHLKAMP: Oh, pleasure’s all mine.


RYAN: A quick word before we jump in. Today we are beginning a short four-episode series revolving around processes for managing school personnel. Think position management, vacancy management, data visibility, that kind of thing. Those might seem like abstract concepts, but the goal here is really to bring it down to earth, and Mitch and Sundie are the perfect people to help do that.


We’re going to begin by talking about workforce oversight, and to start off, I’m going to throw it to Mitch. Mitch, as someone who — and I’m talking about me here — does not have decades of experience in school district HR, when you say workforce oversight, what exactly do you mean by that?


MITCH: Ryan, thanks. And I’m going to ping off Sundie here too. As we’ve been partnering together and we’ve been trying to create this environment of, do we have good visibility of our data? We all know in education that so many times in our past, we’ve had to make decisions on the fly. And I don’t know how many decisions Sundie has made today already on a Friday at one o’clock in the afternoon, right? How many decisions she’s had to make as someone walked in the door and asked her a question and she needs to pull data. We’ve changed, right? We are no longer campus specific. We’re no longer isolated on islands in different buildings. We are an organization that has to maintain people and has to oversee their data, because they have to sit in the right chairs with the right qualifications, with the right requirements. Because we’re responsible for them. Because we’re responsible for kids. So oversight, in my opinion, it’s like, do I have an easy way in a single location, maybe not single, but in some kind of location, to say, ‘I can go get data quickly that gives me a picture of my organization and my workforce?’


SUNDIE: I think workforce oversight with regards to data is not where it needs to be. I think you have a good definition of workforce oversight, but as a fairly large suburban school district here in Texas, I think that we are in a better place than we used to be. I think we are not where we need to be.


Major companies are way better experts at workforce oversight with regards to data access, data mining, data gathering, reporting on their data. They’re much better at it. They’ve been at it a lot longer. School districts, K-12 education, regardless of the state or the size of your district, has not gotten to where we need it to be.


We lived in paper for a very long time. We loved paper. We still find files of paper all the time. They’re everywhere. But in my district in particular, I have a better finger on the pulse of what’s going on in different departments, in different campuses. The communication is better. The trust is better. Campuses have to be able to trust that central office isn’t going to back over them if they make a mistake on their data and vice versa. Central office has to trust that the campuses know what they’re doing with regards to reporting on their data.


We have monthly meetings here in my district referred to as focus meetings, and all we do is get in a room, the players in the game, whether it’s Curriculum and Instruction, Human Resources, Special Programs, and we talk about campuses that do not have good student outcome, right? They’re struggling. The campuses are struggling, and if we didn’t have access to turnover data, testing data, attendance data, discipline data, if we did not have access to all of that, or we were still counting noses one at a time, those meetings would be absolutely a waste of time and probably not even existent. They would be completely unsuccessful.


MITCH: This is such an easy conversation. So many times in my relationship with Sundie, she says, ‘I need this. This is not in a timely manner or we need this better and cleaner and we need to clean up a process.’ I think what’s even more interesting is we’re introducing a term that’s very organizationally outside of K-12. Workforce oversight is used commonly, but if you talk about workforce oversight, that’s not a term people throw out of their mouths in education. They throw out teachers, educators, stakeholder, these different, I’m not saying fluffy terms, but they are kind of fluffy because we are in a feel-good emotional industry that ties to a child and we’ve avoided these terms that are very accountable sounding with compliance to them.


But I’m realizing that we have almost got to talk that way and then learn how to think in a workforce oversight lens. But we have to deliver the message in an emotional, easy-to-chew up term to an educator that doesn’t think that way normally. That’s the challenge.


SUNDIE: You’re putting lipstick on a robot. You have to make that robot be friendly and kind, and it’s going to give you a sticker when you’re done. We are still dealing in the world of education. We are still dealing with people, we are still dealing with a workforce that is intrinsically motivated. They take these jobs with their heart. They don’t take these jobs with their head. And so to take something very logical and very concrete like data and come at people that took this job because of a passion or a calling, and explain to them that this data is going to keep their field alive, is hard. It’s hard.


MITCH: It’s hard. Very difficult. And I’m going to throw this at you, Sundie. You know, as we were preparing for this, I was thinking, if we say workforce oversight, but then I ask you to define workforce insight, how does that change the use of the data and the use of the terms? Workforce oversight giving you view, workforce insight giving you decisions? I think it’s a very delicate balance between the two, but you need both. So what are your thoughts on that? I’d love to hear your like first reaction.


SUNDIE: Well, workforce oversight is going to be very numbers driven, right? It’s data, it’s charts, it’s wins, it’s losses, it’s X’s and O’s. It’s very data driven, right? The oversight of something, the monitoring from afar, whether it’s at the campus level, the classroom level, the district level, it doesn’t matter, right? It’s all oversight. Workforce insight is going to take expertise in a field. It’s going to take a little bit of gut instinct, right? It’s going to take a little bit of knowledge. It’s going to take more of a human element, honestly. Oversight, you can be completely removed from your position and you can oversight all day long.


To have insight, you have to be present, you have to be physically there. You know, a lot of people are mad that K-12 education has not started exploring work from home and virtual and all these kinds of things. You can’t have educational insight without people, and people have to be present and people have to interact. And that’s how you get expertise. That’s how you get those gut instincts. You’re not going to get it from looking at a spreadsheet of numbers ever.


MITCH: And it is tied to my knowledge of the person sitting in front of me, right? Relationship. I loved your term. It is a gut instinct because there’s some risk that needs to be taken when you think about insight. ‘Hey, okay, what do you think about this? Let’s try something. The data says this, but maybe not. Maybe we should try this together and see, but it doesn’t work. We’ll take another path.’ There’s got to be some time, flexibility, oversight. Sometimes we’re reporting to a state, we’re reporting to a district, we’re reporting to a school board. Insight, I’m working with a principal, I’m working with a grade level department. I’m working with a level of educators that are on a committee, and I’ve got to be cognizant of how I talk with the environment that I create, that it’s safe and risk can be taken. I can fail and still come and say, ‘Hey, it didn’t work, but now let’s try something different.’


And balancing, I’m finding with the districts that I’m partnering with, including your own, sometimes that’s a hard balance, because we get one side or the other, right? And it’s changes in the moment. I might be insightful with you right now, but then tonight after I get back and make a decision, I might have to bring some oversight data to bring to the table. And so it’s interesting that kind of balance that we have to have.


SUNDIE: Risk is hard in the world of education because you’re not just dealing with an employee workforce that obviously has people involved, but you’re dealing with kids. I tell people all the time, it doesn’t matter which part of K-12 education you work in, you’re working with kids. You’re working with kids in some capacity, and here’s a little tip: parents don’t keep the good ones at home and send what’s left over. They send you their pride and joy. They send you everything they have at their house, and so you have to have some insight there, and you have to have enough oversight of your data to know when trial and error is going to be an acceptable behavior and when trial and error is not going to be an acceptable behavior.


I can tell you, in Texas we have what we refer to as STAAR testing. And we don’t have a lot of risk taking in that factor because that’s how we report to the state and that’s how they grade us. But when we’re developing a fine arts curriculum or something that’s a little more soft, we do have some creative insight and we can sit down and say, ‘What do you think?’ But there are those moments that occur that you just don’t have a choice. But then on the other side, you’re always dealing with people. So if you don’t have insight and you’re only working with oversight, the chance of you missing the mark is absolutely existing.


RYAN ESTES: This is great stuff. Mitch Welch and Sundie Dahlkamp, I really appreciate you both coming on the podcast today. This brief conversation really wraps it up for introing the topic of workforce oversight. And next time we are going to talk about position management. It’s going to be a barn burner. Don’t miss it.


Field Trip is a podcast from Frontline Education, a leading provider of school administrative software.


That includes Frontline Absence & Time, Recruiting & Hiring, Central, HRMS, Professional Growth, and Human Capital Analytics, all designed to help school districts optimize the employee journey for teachers and staff. Learn more at


For Frontline Education, I’m Ryan Estes. Thanks for listening and have a great day.