Skip to content

Field Trip: Position Management: How to Empower Your Principals


Listen on: Apple Podcasts | Google Podcasts | Spotify

Welcome to the third episode in a short series on workforce oversight in school districts! Once again, we welcome Frontline Education’s Mitch Welch and Dr. Sundie Dahlkamp, Executive Director of Business Services at Pearland Independent School District.

This conversation is all about empowering principals. With the right processes, workflows, and technology, you can enable them to make changes to staff positions seamlessly and efficiently and ensure that any changes are communicated back to the central office. This leads to greater principal involvement and autonomy, fostering a culture of buy-in and collaboration in making personnel decisions.

They explore:

  • The Innovative Transition from Paper to Digital: Sundie describes the shift from a manual, paper-based process to a sophisticated digital system, leading to a seamless, paperless workflow that empowers campus-level autonomy.
  • Autonomy at the Campus Level: By entrusting campus principals with the authority to manage positions, including hiring and adjustments, districts can foster a sense of ownership and expedite the decision-making process.
  • Creating a Culture of Success: Creating a process that prevents errors and allows for informed decision-making can help school districts not only streamline administrative tasks but also build a culture where staff feel supported and empowered. The system’s success lies in its ability to promote dialogue and reflection, leading to a positive work environment and a collective focus on the district’s goals.


00:00 – Introduction

00:00 – The Importance of Principal Involvement

02:42 – The Journey from Manual to Digital Processes

04:50 – Empowering Principals with Autonomy

06:47 – The Role of Compliance and Control in Position Management

09:56 – The Impact of Effective Position Management

10:49 – Conclusion and Next Steps

Related Resources

Full Transcript  

MITCH WELCH: Districts that are questioning if they do position management well, question number one, I’m going to challenge them: are your principals involved in the process? And how involved are they? If they’re not, that’s the first thing that you can do. You’ve got to get them enabled.




RYAN ESTES: Welcome to the Field Trip podcast from Frontline Education. I am Ryan Estes, and this is the third episode and the penultimate episode in a short series that is exploring some of the higher-level thinking around working with employees in school districts. And once again, joining us from two different locations in the great state of Texas, are Mitch Welch, a good friend and coworker of mine here at Frontline, and Dr. Sundie Dahlkamp, the Executive Director of Human Resource Services at Pearland Independent School District. It’s great to have the two of you here. I feel like we’re getting into a bit of a groove.


MITCH: Well, I appreciate you having us.


RYAN: Well, Mitch, why don’t you just take it away. Position modifications. What do we have to talk about here?


MITCH: This is our sweet spot, I think, in managing our district and position management. I’m asked all the time, how do we go in and look at processes and what’s happening? And we hear this tagline all the time: “All of our processes are manual and we need to get off paper.”


There are so many characteristics and personality traits of that district just by that one statement, right? Probably a lack of visibility. Attachment to emails, texts, sticky notes on your chair. Sundie, when you come into your office, things that you don’t hear about, the Business Office says, “I didn’t know. How come I didn’t know that was happening in my own department?” There’s a ripple effect, right? And so I am constantly in a conversation to say back up, just define what position management is like we did on our previous podcast together.


But now let’s go under position management and talk about the movement of position. And in my mind, I’m seeing four pieces, Sundie, and I’d love to break this out. Separations and resignations and the ugly term, ‘terminations.’ How do we manage those? Position modification, meaning from your seat, I have to modify a position and where it sits, I’ve got to reallocate it. I have a special ed position. I need to move a location, I need to move it. A reporting structure, funding and accounting changes, budgetary movement of funds, how it’s allocated, so we can keep that person working. And then the big one is how do we support our principals of reassigning people in their own building?


We’ll go into those four a little bit as much as we can, but I’ve watched you and what you’ve created. I would love for you to kind of map out to the audience a little bit: when you came to your district at Pearland, how did this movement look? What did you inherit?


SUNDIE DAHLKAMP: Sure. So, my purview of what has happened in my district is 17 years in the making. When I came to HR, I thought it was so cool. We made recommendations with a PDF that had dropdown lists of people’s names, and you used the dropdown and then you typed it, and then you saved it, and then you printed it, and then you put it in an envelope and you mailed it across town.


MITCH: Was that like a brown envelope with, like, a Sharpie?


SUNDIE: It was. And you write all over it? Yes!


MITCH: We called it pony mail. We actually had a guy with a bike, with a satchel who picked them up going school to school. That tells me how long I’ve been in education.


SUNDIE: Inter-office mail.


MITCH: We called it pony mail. Yeah.


SUNDIE: Yes. Interoffice mail. We’ve come so far. We now use Frontline as our human resource software. We started moving away from paper. We had to employ not only the software we use for HR, we had to use other financial softwares that the district owned. We had to utilize our technology department. We had to do some internal programming. Without the ability to have people take risks on ideas that had not really been in existence before, we wouldn’t have the system we have now. So to make movement with a position now, my staff can hard line go straight into our financial software and make a change. That change can be made by location. That change can be made by day of time. That change can be made as far as account codes, whether it’s federal or local. They can make all of those changes hardwired into the system, and it goes through an internal routing process between HR, the Business Office, the corresponding departments, Technology. And everyone is a part of that workflow and not one single piece of paper gets to leave anyone’s office. That right there in and of itself is a huge feat, but it really only involved the people that work here at Central Office, which in a lot of districts probably would only involve about four or five people.


But what I’m most proud of is how we were able to take that concept and get it out to the campuses and say, “Hey, principal, we have trust in your ability to send us information.” Whether it is hiring someone, moving someone, requesting a vacancy get posted, all of those things that typically would have been paper, all of that position movement, that position creation, that position adjustment, happens now at the lowest possible level. So there’s no email that says, “What did you mean when you said…” or there’s no follow-up phone call that says, “I saw your sticky note, but I didn’t know what you meant by ‘Not soccer. Do baseball.'” What? Now it all happens at the campus level, and the principal gets to own that moment.


One, we have given them the ability to actually be the master of their domain. That’s huge. But they’re able to then communicate with us in a way that is highly technical. Our campuses send us all of their requests through Frontline, whether it is a position change or a recommendation to hire, or a recommendation to post a job, it doesn’t matter. They’re able to give us every single ounce of data at the campus level, and then we have our own internal checks and balances that get it all the way to the finish line, whether that’s changing someone’s hours or taking away soccer and adding baseball, whatever that is, we’re now able to do it. No one had to chase the mail guy. No one had to learn how to use a dropdown menu on A PDF. It’s so seamless and gives so much more autonomy to our supervisors that they feel a part of the process and not like they’re playing Mother-May-I.


MITCH: I want to fill in and color commentate on some things because I think it’s such a powerful conversation. Districts that are questioning if they do position management well, question number one, I’m going to challenge them: are your principals involved in the process? And how involved are they? If they’re not, that’s the first thing that you can do. You’ve got to get them enabled.


I was just in a district this week and I was doing some traveling and I sat with the district who has had our solutions for a long time. They said, “We are trying to take away as much as possible from the principals as we can, because they keep messing up.” And I’m like, whoa! The more you take away from them, the more complicated this is going to become and the more mistakes you’re going to make as a district office and you’re going to have issues.


SUNDIE: If principals are making mistakes in movement recommendation, and if principals are making mistakes with regards to making employment decisions, then the form you created is broken, because your form itself should be so tight and so locked in that all they’re making is choices. They’re not making mistakes. They can’t make a mistake because the form itself only allows choices, not errors.


MITCH: And I’d love something in that form. You know, you’re proactive in it, too. Meaning I’m making a decision and a request of my own staff as a principal, but knowing what this decision’s going to do, because I’ve been so enabled by the district to learn this way and to think this way, I’m now going to bring other people that need to know what I’m doing into the workflow. So they might not have been as initially on the initial form, but we put a little section in there that says, I need the director of athletics and I need the director of special education involved in this one. And they need to review it, but not all the time. Only when I need them to be. And you’re starting that with the initial person making the request. That is a culture thing. That is an environment piece that’s now going to help you in the control piece down the line.


SUNDIE: Well, you know, some of that started, we would have principals that would hire a special education teacher and the special education people would call Human Resources and say, “We don’t know who this is.” What? What do you mean you don’t know who this is? We had to create that platform to happen because in the middle of July, when a principal is trying to hire 25 teachers, it wasn’t natural to call special programs and say, “Hey, can you come over for an hour?” We were putting too much pressure on a principal to remember who to call, when, where, why. Put it in the form!


Now, if Special Programs wants to go look up who Joe is, you’ve got all his information right there. Click on the link, go see all about Joe. If you don’t like Joe, then you can pick up the phone and tell somebody. Otherwise, guess what? Joe’s your new employee. He’s coming and now you know all about him.


MITCH: You’re empowering all stakeholders at this point, and I love that because you’re using a very compliance-based process that is control reliant, and you’re actually creating a culture of buy-in, dialogue, reflection in a culture of success that this scary topic of movement is not so scary. I think it’s really well done.


SUNDIE: Sure. It’s actually one of the favorite things that when people come to our district and say, “Hey, can you show me something really cool that you guys are doing?” It’s probably the number one thing I have my staff show people that we are doing.


MITCH: I think that’s the number one thing that I show about your staff too. And I’m showing everywhere across the country. So your name’s on everything.


SUNDIE: We tell people all the time. We’re like, ” If you want to give some amazing autonomy back to your campus leaders, your department leaders…” Our Food Service department thinks that it is like the most amazing thing ever, because they can change someone from a four-hour worker to a six-hour worker in the click of a button and then they never worry about it. The person automatically is changed. It’s like magic falls from the sky and on a Tuesday they work four hours and on a Wednesday they work six hours.


MITCH: Yeah, that’s great. So thank you very much. That’s exactly what I wanted you to tell our audience.


SUNDIE: I aim to please.


RYAN: One reason I love these conversations is the chance to hear what all of this actually looks like in school districts. Mitch and Sundie, thanks again for making time in your busy days.


MITCH: Appreciate it.


RYAN: We will see you next time for a conversation about employee data visibility, which I know is going to be a white knuckle ride. See you then.


Field Trip is a podcast from Frontline Education, a leading provider of school administrative software. If you work in school administration, you can find solutions for managing the entire employee lifecycle at, including Frontline HRMS, which can help you leverage real-time data for strategic workforce planning and position management.


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