The head of Human Resources announced she was leaving DC Public Schools during the summer, in the midst of our annual hiring crunch. Our efforts to ensure there would be a teacher in every classroom in time for the start of school had already fallen significantly behind schedule. We were trying to customize and launch a new hiring system while simultaneously processing over 2,000 hires, transfers and so on, and it was not going well. Our stakeholders were frustrated, and the team, working long hours, even more so.
I was tapped to take a leadership role on the staffing team to get us to a successful school opening in the fall. It happened so fast that I didn’t have a chance to say no, but I had serious reservations. I promised my chief I would step in, but only in an interim capacity. Long-term, I wanted to manage a smaller team, doing the challenging analytic work that was strategically important, but not on the firing line.
The first few weeks in my new interim role were a total blur and absolutely exhausting, but the team was energized and stepping up. We were making progress and I began to think we could actually pull it off. But soon, we started to burn out again. I was viewed by some as being too focused on the work at the expense of individuals. To reduce the pressure, we enlisted staff from across the division to help. Although it came down to the wire, we got it done. On the first day of school, we braced for the inevitable crises when classrooms without teachers surfaced. None came. Despite a late start, a mid-stream shift in leadership, and extensive scrutiny along the way, we had one of the most successful school openings anyone could remember.
As soon as things calmed down, I had a decision to make. I could lean back a bit and return to building a top notch analytics team, and contribute behind-the-scenes. Or, I could continue to lean all the way in and direct the staffing function. The staffing role was clearly the bigger challenge, at least for me. I would have to work extremely hard and smart to set the team on a better course and manage for long term success rather than near term performance. We had survived the summer together, but needed to find a way to change the way we did things to avoid repeatedly going through crisis mode.
After discussions with my very supportive partner, several members of the team, and my management, I chose to stay in staffing, leaning in to all the challenges it would bring. It hasn’t been easy, but with the next summer fast approaching, I’m absolutely confident that we are in a much better place than we’ve been in years past. This year, I’m determined to do it without the long hours and stress on the team. This job is by far hardest I’ve ever done, but every day I can see it paying off in very real, meaningful ways for the kids of DC, and that makes it all worthwhile.