Thriving, Striving, and High-Fiving

Jenifer Owenson, J.D., Chief Human Resources Officer

  • How Ankeny Stays Competitive in the Hiring Marketplace

    Posted by Jenifer Owenson on 11/7/2018

    For years Iowa, like other states, has been concerned over a looming teacher shortage. There are several contributors to this shortage. In 2017, state legislators changed Chapter 20 of the Iowa Code, a statute that was designed to allow public sector employees to bargain about work conditions. A by-product of this law change was a concern that it could intensify teachers leaving the profession, or result in with fewer teachers going into the profession. Ankeny Schools believes that to be proactive and competitive in this tightening job market, the District must know as early as possible how many teachers it needs and then, accordingly, the hiring for those positions must start early. To hire the best, highest-qualified teachers in the Des Moines metro has led Ankeny and its fellow Central Iowa districts to find innovative ways to get out to the job market as early as possible.


    In the past, Ankeny School District has hired its new positions mainly in March and April preceding the next school year. This timeline was concerning. Ankeny needed a way to hire core teachers in advance, to stay competitive in the marketplace and secure the best teachers. In grappling with this dilemma, the human resources department decided to pursue a phased hiring plan on a new timeline.


    The first step in the new hiring plan is to use the enrollment predictions provided by our demographer, RSP & Associates, for each grade within each school to determine how many additional teachers for which there is a projected need. Board policy sets class sizes at the elementary level of 25 for kindergarten and 27 for grades 1-5. Additionally, the secondary level pursues staffing to keep class sizes near or under 30 students. Enrollment projects and class size limits allow for a clearer picture of what core positions will be needed the following school year.


    Under the new staffing plan timelines, the Ankeny Board of Education will consider Phase One, including the hiring of core class teachers by December. By pursuing this phase in December, Ankeny is one of the first school districts in the area to roll out new positions for prospective teachers.


    Phase Two of the staffing plan includes secondary positions like elective class teachers for secondary schools, specials teachers for elementary schools, and some administration staff. Building administrators use historical data and course registration to assist in predicting staffing needs.


    Phase Three of the staffing plan includes support positions such as general education associates, custodians, and district office staff. These positions are often hired year-round and do not have the same competitive needs as the first two phases of the plan; thus the later timeline is acceptable.


    Separating the hiring process into three phases allows our district to adjust to and remain competitive in the marketplace. By remaining flexible, we assure that we hire quality teachers to ensure the best education for our students.


    Ankeny's Teachers

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  • How Pre-Employment Physicals Help Increase Safety In The Workplace

    Posted by Jenifer Owenson on 10/3/2018

    Creating a safe working environment for students and staff is one of the human resources department’s highest priorities. One strategy in accomplishing a safe environment is preventing workplace injuries before they happen. Ankeny Community School District (ACSD) has been doing pre-employment post-offer physical testing since 2010. This has been an instrumental strategy in reducing injuries and consequently reducing the District’s the worker’s compensation costs.


    Physical Abilities Testing (PAT) is an effective injury reduction strategy and offers a significant boost to workplace safety. PAT evaluates an applicant’s ability to meet the physical requirements of a position. The goal is to screen out potential employees who may not realize their inability to meet the defined physical requirements. This in turn reduces the risk for workplace injuries.


    In fact, Jester Insurance recognized Ankeny for its work in reducing worker compensation claims. Ankeny’s experience modification factor - a value that compares the claim profile of the employer to the claim profile that would be expected of an employer of similar size (payroll) in the same industry - decreased from 1.14 in 2014-15 to 0.87 in 2017-18 and continues to trend downward.


    Creating an environment of safety is integral to achieve our a safe workplace for both staff and students.


    Experience Modification Factor Overtime

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  • Case Study: Ankeny Schools' HR University

    Posted by Jenifer Owenson on 7/17/2018

    The Ankeny Community School District is one of the fastest growing schools in the state of Iowa. With growth comes the constant need for learning opportunities within the administrative team. The District sets aside every Thursday morning during the school year for our administrators to dialogue, analyze, discuss and read about educational strategies that move the needle for students. Because the learning focuses on improving instruction, conversations about the function of human resources usually take a back seat. We know, however, that the most significant impact on student learning is ensuring that we have a quality teacher in every classroom. Thus, it was imperative to the HR department to design learning opportunities focused around staffing, hiring, compensation and contract administration to support our principal’s in building their team during the year, but also in a concentrated period during the summer.


    Each year HR, in coordination with other central office staff, develops a calendar of learning just-in-time topics during the Thursday morning learning slot throughout the school year. Administrators can routinely expect to hear from HR about how we will approach the staffing plan for the following year in late September and early October. Again in January, administrators will learn from HR about legally sound hiring practices. After the District negotiates the contract, administrators will get a summary of the changes in March. There are a few other opportunities throughout the year, but significant segments of time dedicated to HR learning are scarce.


    The HR department began what we refer to as “HR University” to rectify the learning gap from the school year. We block off the time for this event a year in advance to ensure attendance and schedule the daylong learning event planned on the heels of the last days of school. The day of learning is a blend of what went well in the preceding school year with new insights for the upcoming school year. In some years, the HR department has created an agenda that provides learning in tracks so building leaders can choose areas for their personal growth and focus.


    Ankeny's administrative team


    An example from the 2018 HR University agenda would be the session devoted to retention. Iowa has recently changed our collective bargaining law which dramatically impacted the bargaining rights of employee organizations. With the passage of that law, there were grave concerns about whether Iowa public schools would experience an exodus of teaching professionals worried about the future of teaching. The HR department, concerned about retention, spent time and effort during the past school year reinforcing the District’s commitment to a competitive pay and benefits system. While the District can espouse its dedication to increasing pay and maintaining benefits, the real efforts at the core of retention start at the building level. Therefore, a session dedicated to understanding the District’s retention efforts and the corresponding role of the building leaders was necessary.


    Another favorite session for administrators is a chance to have tabletop discussions around imaginatively developed scenarios that are a mix between bona fide human resource dilemmas experienced during the year and potential situations that could likely occur. Our District invested in the book, Analytic Processes for School Leaders, by Cynthia T. Richetti and Benjamin B. Tregoe, a few years ago. A general premise in the book is this: “Breaking the thinking process down into steps helps us reach better conclusions because we can understand, fine-tune, and improve our approaches; communicate our rationale to others; more effectively involve others in solving problems; and teach these skills to others.” Our most seasoned administrators may or may not realize that when forced to make a decision, they have a mental checklist they use to arrive at a final decision. Essentially, we all have a repertoire of experiences we draw upon that assists us in making a decision. We believe it is our job in HR, through these discussions, to refine our decision-making skills through practice. The goal of this scenario learning is to group administrators with varying degrees of experience together and to share their approaches to resolving the complex issues presented in the scenario.  The scenarios HR develops for resolution may not have a “right” answer since there is often a human variable that may change. By building a standard set of steps to resolving the issue, it functions to better prepare administrators for addressing similar problems that may arise in their work.


    The feedback on the learning has been positive. HR takes any feedback received and revises the agenda in future years to better align with the administrators’ needs.   Last year, many of the administrators suggested eliminating paper and creating an electronic resource for the documents referenced during the training. HR responded this year by creating a detailed agenda, with electronic links to the documents, reading, and analysis referenced during the day of learning. This move to a paperless agenda led to many of the administrators offering thanks for providing a report they could file and reference as needed during the school year.


    The HR University does require an immense amount of time to plan, research and develop, to deliver training that is a meaningful use of administrators’ precious time. The HR department also uses this opportunity to report out to our administrative team on the initiatives in the HR department and our progress toward the District’s strategic plan. It is also an opportunity for the HR department to explain the “why” behind our work. In our opinion, it is worth the time and effort and has paid dividends in preparing our administrators. One administrator summed it up by stating, “I’ve been meaning to let you know how much I appreciated HR University. You did such a nice job of formatting the day, delivering relevant information, while also adding in new learning on top of it all. I really enjoyed it - thank you for all of the time you put in to make it a successful day!”

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  • What is a Stay Survey?

    Posted by Jenifer Owenson on 6/19/2018

    The Ankeny Community School District Human Resources Department’s main objective is to hire and retain a high-quality staff. Companies often complete exit surveys when an employee leaves to determine what causes a departure. This year, HR thought, “What can we do to make them stay?”


    A stay survey consists of a series of questions a human resources department sends to current employees in order to measure how employees are feeling about their job roles, career path, and organization in general. Stay surveys enable organizations to identify and remove any roadblocks in the way of its key employees performing to their best.


    Ankeny's human resources department conducted a 2018 stay survey in June and included questions like, “What do you look forward to when you come to work each day?” and, “What keeps you working for Ankeny Schools?”


    • What do you look forward to when you come to work each day? Nearly 80 percent of respondents included students as their motivation to come to work each day. One teacher writes, “Having worked in other districts, I try to be grateful each day for the good kids we have. I do not take for granted the good environment, students, and families we have in our district.”

    Graphic showing the most popular reasons people stay with Ankeny Schools

    • What keeps you working for Ankeny Schools? “Ankeny has a strong reputation for providing students with a great educational experience,” writes one teacher. “As an educator, I am provided with meaningful professional development, and there are leadership opportunities available. Student learning is a top priority, and this is reflected in the decisions that are made at both the building and district level.” Students, opportunity, community, salary, growth, administration, and colleagues were among other responses.


    The district has more than 1,500 employees and 780 certified teachers, making it the largest employer in Ankeny. More than 12 percent of the city of Ankeny’s workforce is employed in the education sector. HR will continue to work diligently to make ACSD one of the most compelling work environments in the state, ensuring that employees are compensated well and have a positive work environment.

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