From Bystander to Ally: Transforming the District Human Resources Department

April 2004

Although policymakers and academics tend to overlook the behind-the-scenes role that district human resources (HR) departments play in education, the HR office's effect is far from small. HR departments determine whether qualified teacher candidates make it to the classroom, or slip through the cracks. They can help principals find teachers who meet their school's particular needs, or they can offer only perfunctory administrative support during the hiring process.

This report sheds some light on how today's school districts are rethinking this critical district function. It provides an introductory look at the issues surrounding HR reform by considering three districts that are actively engaged in reshaping their HR offices: Houston Independent School District, Milwaukee Public Schools, and San Diego City Schools. Each of these districts was in transition from a bureaucratic to a more performance-oriented approach to education, and had found that its HR office was not providing principals with the support they needed.

Based on 49 interviews with district and school personnel during the 2002-03 school year, the report's aim is to identify key issues that leaders in districts elsewhere can use to begin thinking about how they might make their HR office more efficient or effective.

One of the report's central conclusions is that transforming the district HR function requires a combination of two things: administrative reforms to increase the departmental capacity and close attention from district leaders. When district leaders recognize HR's importance, and think deliberately about ways to reorient their central bureaucracies to be more effective and to focus on schools' needs, they may be in a position to marshal HR as an ally that supports, rather than hinders, efforts to improve schools and teachers for all students.

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