Not Your Typical Government Bureaucracy

By Junior Associate: Kristiana Kim

DCPS is a whirlwind of new initiatives, pilot programs, and change. As someone so aptly put it, DCPS feels more like a startup than your typical governmental bureaucracy. The work culture is vibrant, employees are innovative and ridiculously well-educated, and every person believes wholeheartedly in the mission of DCPS. Every person is driven by a sense of purpose and urgency.

Just to give an example of the type of dedication employees have here at the Central Office have, I want to talk a little about my supervisor Mary Balla. Mary and I work on the Teacher Recruitment and Selection team which, as the title suggests, focuses on recruiting and then selecting the most qualified and competent teacher candidates for DCPS schools. The DCPS teacher selection model strikes a good balance between standardizing new teacher quality across the district and maintaining the autonomy of individual schools and principals. While our team screens candidates into an “approved pool” by requiring them to submit a basic application, essays, and video audition, and to undergo a phone interview and background check, principals are still the ultimate hiring managers for their school. They have their pick of any of the candidates who entered the approved pool and even of candidates who did not undergo our screening process, and they—not Central Office employees—select the teachers for hire.

Of course, we try to help them make the right hiring decisions in any way we can. We send them resumes of everyone in the approved pool. We highlight people we think might be an especially good fit for their school. We organize speed-dating-esque events called “hiring fairs” so that they can chat with candidates and get to know them in-person before deciding whether or not to schedule more in-depth interviews with them later.

But if you’re my supervisor, Mary, you go one step further.

You volunteer yourself.

That’s right, a particular principal whom Mary supports was a bit worried about finding a Spanish teacher, and since Mary has had years of experience teaching high school Spanish, she offered herself up if the principal couldn’t fill the position by October. If that’s not dedication to the mission of DCPS and to the students of the district, I don’t know what is.  I should clarify that we have plenty of qualified Spanish candidates in the pool, so the likelihood of Mary actually being called to fill the position is slim. But the point is that Mary wanted to offer the best possible support. She wanted the principal to be assured that no matter what, the school would have an excellent teacher and students would be well served.

Mary’s I’ll-go-to-the-front-lines-if-I-need-to mentality is something I know I’ll remember for a long time because it is representative to me of the strength and promise of DCPS. Yes, DCPS Central Office has systematic inefficiencies and an alarming turnover rate. Yes, the relationship between Central Office, school-based administrators, and teachers could still be stronger. Yes, improvement in student performance needs to be accelerated.

But I can assure you that everyone working in the Central Office is putting their blood, sweat, tears, and brains into fixing these issues.  And with this type of dedication in a workforce, I find it hard to believe that we won’t see results.  

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