AASA School Administrator Magazine
Hiring and Retention Article in AASA School Administrator Magazine by Dr. Pat Greco

Revolutionizing Onboarding and Staff Development in Schools

Today’s staffing shortages in elementary and secondary schools demand more than short-term solutions. While crisis management helped us navigate the pandemic, the ongoing teacher and specialist shortages call for improved approaches to onboarding, mentoring, and ongoing staff development.

Historically, school districts have focused on supporting classroom teachers, often neglecting classified staff, such as special education aides and bus drivers. These critical support staff are frequently hired with minimal guidance or training, leaving them to figure out their roles on their own. This lack of support can result in undertrained employees, unsafe environments, and increased legal risks.

Increase School Staff Retention with These Two Critical Conversations

To improve school staff retention, consider starting 30- and 90-day conversations with new hires. Incorporating these practices, along with regular check-ins and supportive onboarding activities, helps create a culture where employees feel valued and heard, enhancing retention and overall success.

Begin fostering a supportive and thriving workplace culture by downloading the Studer Education 30/90-day conversation guide.

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Continuous Improvement in El Dorado County

In El Dorado County, California, 15 small, rural districts faced a severe bus driver shortage in fall 2023. County Office of Education Superintendent Ed Manansala recognized the threat to the district’s promise of high-quality education. Instead of quick fixes, his team embraced continuous improvement principles for onboarding. They held regular staffing updates and treated hiring and retention as a shared responsibility.

One key strategy was “rounding,” a process where leaders individually check in with their team members quarterly to address concerns and gather feedback. For bus drivers, this led to the establishment of a substitute driver pool, improved onboarding, and mentoring through 30- and 90-day check-ins. The district also offered resources like licensing fee coverage and bonuses for referrals.

From our executive leaders to our school principals, we are developing the leadership skills and the (continuous) improvement muscle needed to solve any challenge, hiring among them. Ed Manansala

Targeted Training and Onboarding

El Dorado County Office of Education prioritized job-specific training, especially for bus drivers who wanted to better support students with special needs. This led to higher job satisfaction and retention, demonstrating the importance of listening to and acting on employee feedback.

Hemet Unified’s Retention Initiative

In southern California, Hemet Unified School District faced high paraeducator turnover. The district launched an initiative to change core processes and team culture, ensuring new employees felt valued. New aides were matched with mentors and received targeted training within their first 30 days. This approach, including the crucial 30- and 90-day check-ins, has improved hiring rates and is expected to boost retention.

Addressing Onboarding Gaps in Glencoe

Glencoe School District 35 in suburban Chicago faced dwindling applicant pools, particularly for special education aides. Superintendent Catherine Wang acknowledged the need for a more inclusive support system. The district introduced monthly professional development sessions and mentorship programs for new staff. While there is still work to be done, such as providing onboarding for mid-year hires, the feedback has been positive, with veteran staff appreciating the investment in their success.

Lessons Learned

District leaders are learning that improving culture and processes leads to better hiring and retention. By listening to staff and aligning actions with their needs, they are fostering a culture of continuous improvement. Simple shifts in onboarding and support are proving effective in sustaining a positive environment for both students and staff.

For a deeper dive into these initiatives and strategies, read the full article from AASA School Administrator Magazine at aasa.org/sa.

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School Administrator Magazine Cover - May 2024 - Hiring and Retention School Administrator: Hiring and Retention
This issue examines several solutions and strategies to help school districts hire and retain teachers amid ongoing staff shortages.


Download the Studer Education 30/90-day Conversation Guide.

Explore ways to be intentional and make sure all employee voices are heard. Start by adopting 30/90-day conversations with new employees. Make this habit a cornerstone of your leadership practices.

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