Prioritizing Talent in Turnaround: Recommendations for Identifying, Hiring, and Supporting Principals and Teachers in Low‑Performing Schools

Prioritizing Talent in Turnaround: Recommendations for Identifying, Hiring, and Supporting Principals and Teachers in Low‑Performing Schools

Dallas Hambrick Hitt & Coby V. Meyers
University of Virginia Darden/Curry
Partnership for Leaders in Education

Identifying and maintaining talent is important in any organization, but in a low-performing school, it is perhaps the most important component to achieving turnaround. Research has made it increasingly clear that teachers are the most important school-based factor in a student’s academic success, and leaders foster effective teaching and learning environments and are, therefore, the second most important school-based factor in a student’s academic success (Nichols, Glass, & Berliner, 2012). Given the importance of teachers and leaders for students and schools, districts and states are wise to hone their efforts related to identifying, attracting, retaining, and sustaining capable and committed talent.

The University of Virginia Partnership for Leaders in Education (UVA/PLE) works with school systems to establish the conditions for change and to build transformative leadership capacity to achieve improved systems and schools for students. Over the course of the last decade, UVA/PLE has partnered with over 100 districts from across the nation in urban, suburban, and rural settings. Given the importance of hiring and retaining high-quality principals and teachers in turnaround schools, this report provides lessons learned by UVA/PLE about strategic talent development in a turnaround environment.

Specifically, this report conveys what UVA/PLE researchers and field team members have learned from a project examining how districts prioritizing their lowest-performing schools attract and recruit high-potential candidates for principalships and teaching positions. The report also describes what we learned from the project in terms of districts’ strategic and innovative approaches for identifying the fit between an applicant and a school, and for supporting talent in the long term. Along with illustrative stories of promising practices from schools and districts engaged in strategic talent development, we provide recommendations based on the project’s findings regarding concrete steps and actions districts and states can take to support innovative and effective talent development in low-performing schools.

The examples of districts’ talent-development processes described in this report are taken from the following sources:

  • UVA/PLE documents, including district improvement plans and site visit reports, co-created by districts and UVA/PLE field team members.
  • Semi-structured interviews with four districts identified by the UVA/PLE field team as innovative and committed in their approaches to talent acquisition and management.
  • Resources developed by two entities that dedicate their programmatic and research efforts toward talent development in schools: the Urban Schools Human Capital Academy (2017) and the New Mexico Public Education Department (n.d.).
  • UVA/PLE’s previous work with six large urban districts focused on developing a pipeline of talented and prepared principals in difficult-to-staff settings.

Four main focus areas for strategic talent development emerged from our project:

  • Planning for the long-term future
  • Increasing options for the immediate future
  • Differentiating and customizing
  • Generating ongoing growth on the job