Building a Multiple-Data-Point Hiring System

Following is a guest blog by Dr. Anne Sullivan, Chief Human Resources Officer for Des Moines Public Schools. In 2016, with support from Battelle for Kids, the district designed a multiple-data-point system for selecting teachers, leaders, and classified and support staff.  

Ensuring that all children have access to an effective educator is the mission of Des Moines Public Schools (DMPS). In my capacity as the Chief of Human Resources, I view this task as the primary function of our department. A strategic approach to recruiting, hiring, and retaining effective educators is paramount to our success. 

The hard truth is that staff turnover is expensive. We invest quite a bit in making sure we have the right talent leading our buildings, supporting our staff and students, and teaching our kids. In fact, a 2007 report from the National Commission on Teaching & America’s Future found that depending on a school district’s size, it can cost between $4,000 and nearly $18,000 for every incident of teacher turnover. And that was more than a decade ago. Imagine what teacher turnover costs school districts today. What about the cost of losing a great principal or classified staff? We could invest these dollars into providing more resources for our students in the classroom. 

Driven by DMPS’s focus on investing in all our kids, I was very interested in an idea presented at a meeting hosted by the American Association of School Personal Administrators (AASPA). A strong candidate pool is not enough. Our district needed a hiring process that could identify those potential candidates who had the greatest probability of being successful—a process focused on our students and not solely on the adults in the system. We should always be asking: What are the knowledge, skills, and abilities a person needs to possess in this job to best serve our students? 

DMPS embarked on a multi-year journey to develop a system of hiring based on best practices, research, and the needs of our students. We explored the factors that serve as indicators of future success for teachers and leaders. We determined how to weight these factors in selecting applicants. This action is critical to not only identify high-potential candidates, but to ensure a more efficient hiring system that maximizes staff time and district resources. We also worked to build support across the organization for why we needed to change how we were hiring people and selecting them to come to DMPS. 

Our first step was to identify the characteristics of DMPS’s most successful teachers and consider research on the qualities of highly effective educators. We discovered that there’s not a single characteristic that predicts success, but a variety of factors that contribute to positive student outcomes. This analysis informed the development of a multiple-data-point system for sorting applicants and selecting the most promising candidates for jobs. 

This change has required a great deal of work and some trial and error over the past couple years. It has also not come without its critics. Some in the DMPS community miss the days when they could rely on their “gut” to find the right fit for a position. However, we continue to get better at identifying the type of talent and behaviors that will best serve our students. 

This is a journey, and we’re just at the beginning. There will be some challenges along the way, and possibly some missteps, but I’m proud of our efforts thus far. We are transforming our hiring system to take a more deliberate and thoughtful approach to this very important decision, with the goal of selecting the right talent to serve all our students in Des Moines Public Schools.