Partnership allows schools, business to grow ideas

March 26, 2012

Attracting, developing and retaining a workforce is a challenge for any business and Google is partnering with school leaders from across the nation to share best practices that can be used in the education world.

Partnering with 20 school agencies — representing school districts and organizations which oversee clusters of charter schools — Google is in the process of running a pilot program called the Google Talent Academy. Noting issues with keeping quality employees, the program aims to help senior school staff rethink the way they manage their staff. Led by Google’s people operations department, what they call human resources, teams of school officials are taught tactics for finding, training and keeping the right employees. Each organization is also given a $20,000 grant to implement one of the lessons. Among the pilot program’s participants is the Summit Public Schools, which currently oversees four charter high schools located in Redwood City and San Jose.

Iveta Brigis, senior program manager for K-12 education at Google, explained the company recently took an interest in inspiring children when it comes to computer science. Such an interest, hopefully for the company, results in more students choosing to go into computer sciences in college and the creation of a possible workforce. To support schools, the organization worked to create a pilot program to share best practices.

Google works to find, grow and keep the right employees, said Brigis. It’s sharing how schools, even on limited budgets, can be similarly successful in practices of managing its staff. Participating school officials are from a variety of states — California, New York, Nevada and Colorado.
Teams of three to four from each school are brought together to attend a series of lectures and activities covering the changing trends in managing people then hiring, training and keeping those employees, said Brigis.

Brigis added budgets can be the biggest challenge since schools normally have more limited resources. As a result, the program is aiming to deliberately share things which can be implemented at schools.

“This is at the heart of what schools don’t do well. We get stagnant and stuck,” said Diane Tavenner, CEO of Summit Public Schools.
Retention is an ongoing problem for schools locally which often struggle with budget restraints. Insecure budgets has resulted in high teacher turnover, which a recent study suggests affects all students’ achievement.

In a paper authored by Matthew Ronfeldt of the University of Michigan, Susanna Loeb of Stanford University and Jim Wyckoff of the University of Virginia, the researchers found students did worse in years with high turnover. This was the case in large and small schools as well as ones using new and old facilities. The negative impact did get worse in schools with a higher number of low-achieving and black students, according to the study “How teacher turnover harms student achievement” which was recently shared earlier this month at conference held by the Center for Longitudinal Data in Education Research. The researchers called for more research into why achievement dropped but noted it seems to affect the morale of coworkers. A difference in experience from employees leaving and those joining the team could also play a part.

Tavenner has always welcomed best practices from business and innovative ideas. For example, the nonprofit charter organization offers extensive training opportunities for its employees. Further improvements was a welcome opportunity, she said.

Summit’s grant program was recently accepted. It will include a two-day training for all employees to talk about the design and operations of the schools.
Although the training program just started, Tavenner noted numerous ideas that can be implemented. Creating a productive culture, for example, can be done without a lot of extra money, she said. Tavenner noted those working in education are often mission driven. Supporting that can be done in smaller ways like offering brownies to staff to say you appreciate their work. It’s about being deliberate, but also thoughtful.

Both Google and the school officials are also benefiting from the opportunity to share ideas and come together in an environment where they’re free to focus on ideas — a unique gift for many involved. Google is evaluating the impacts of the program throughout the process.