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    Covering classrooms when teachers are absent. It’s one of the biggest challenges district and school leaders like you face every day. But what if you could harness data that may already be at your fingertips to get ahead of those absences? You could be sitting on a goldmine of knowledge that could help your district plan and shape policies to stabilize its workforce. 

    Bill Brancato, Vice President of IT Systems and Digital Innovation leads digital strategy at Kelly Education. In this role, he helps our more than 1,000 school district partners tap into their own data and enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of their staffing programs. The result?  Record-high fill rates for our customers. 

    In this Q&A, he shares how district leaders can maximize absence management technology and data to save money and change the trajectory of your workforce.   

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    Question: You have been involved in more than 500 district implementations, some of which involved transitioning districts from spreadsheets to an official absence management system. In your experience, what prevents districts from implementing such technology? 

    Bill Brancato: Most districts are open to the idea of absence management technology. One of the main considerations is ensuring that staff understand the goals and expectations associated with the effective integration of an absence management system. From there, determining which program can seamlessly extract and migrate data from existing systems is key.  

    Implementing an absence management system often requires districts to extract data from their Human Resources Information System. This process can pose significant challenges for districts that still rely on outdated technologies, operate with piecemeal technology systems, or lack a formal IT department. In such cases, the district may struggle with the technical expertise needed to extract and consolidate all the necessary data. Reality is the process is not difficult, but oftentimes school districts may view this as a barrier to entry. There are plenty of resources available to help hurdle this obstacle.

    Question: What considerations are important when evaluating absence management technology? 

     Bill Brancato: When evaluating absence management technology, it's crucial to start by understanding your specific needs and goals. Are you simply looking for a solution to secure substitutes, or do you want a more comprehensive system with additional features like approval workflows, absence balances, and seamless integration with other systems in your district?  

    If you're only using the technology to find substitute educators, you're missing out on its full potential. These systems often include approval processes that help manage demand and improve accountability, improving a district's ability to be proactive in its effort to mitigate preventable absences.

    These additional feature sets are typically included in the platform at no extra cost. Therefore, not utilizing them means you are not fully leveraging the comprehensive capabilities for which you are paying. Investing in an absence management system and only using it to secure substitutes is akin to purchasing a smartphone but continuing to use a physical map for navigation.   

    Another key consideration is the integration capabilities of the technology. Ensuring that the absence management system meshes well with your existing infrastructure can streamline operations and potentially reduce costs.  

    Question: How can districts better leverage their absence management data to identify critical areas of improvement? 

    Bill Brancato: The first and most important step is to actively examine the data. A common issue we encounter is that districts either neglect to review their data or are unaware of the data available to them. It's essential to examine this information regularly to gain valuable insights. 

    Start by identifying your specific goals—whether it's reducing absenteeism or increasing fill rates for certain positions. Understand which data points will help you measure progress towards these goals. Many absence management systems come with dashboards, but some may require additional analytics suites for more detailed insights. If these aren't available, you might need to use other tools to create graphical, consumable reports. 

    Most districts don't realize the potential of their absence management platforms. With the right expertise, such as a skilled data professional, you can build comprehensive dashboards and graphs. This doesn't require a massive budget—just someone who understands data flow. With the right person in place, setting up actionable, repeatable, and integrated analytics is straightforward and cost-effective.  

    Do not let a limited budget for investing in skill sets or technologies, such as a data analyst paired with an analytics solution, deter you. Often, a tech-savvy colleague and Microsoft Excel can accomplish much more than expected. In many cases, this combination is more than sufficient to extract valuable insights from the data already available to you.

    Question: How often should districts review their data, and who should be included in this process?


    Teacher with student. Caption reads: The Checklist - Expert tips for Evaluating School Staffing ProvidersBill Brancato: Data review should be a collaborative effort involving various stakeholders within the district. While not everyone needs to analyze financial figures, key district administration leaders and decision-makers should have a firm grasp of the financial aspects, especially when it comes to absenteeism. Leadership teams should understand overall absenteeism trends, while principals should focus on absenteeism at their individual schools and how they compare to others. 

    Professional development leaders, for example, should be informed about the attendance rates at training sessions to ensure effective planning. The type and granularity of data reviewed should be tailored to the specific roles within the district. Engaging leaders to identify what data would aid their roles is essential, and prioritizing this feedback helps build an effective data review system. 

    Daily reviews should be brief and focused on key metrics such as fill rates and absenteeism rates, taking only a few minutes. Weekly reviews can delve deeper into data and take around ten minutes. Monthly or quarterly reviews should be more comprehensive, lasting about 30 minutes to an hour, to align future strategies with the insights gained. This structured approach ensures that data review is manageable and impactful, fostering informed decision-making and continuous improvement. 

    Achieving success in this area requires some initial planning and setup. For instance, we just discussed the importance of conducting daily reviews that last just a few minutes and focus on key metrics. To facilitate this, it is important to make the information easily accessible and digestible, such as through a daily email. Allocate time to identify the relevant metrics and configure an automated email that delivers this information to you daily, eliminating the need for manual retrieval.

    The setup process may take a few hours but is a one-time effort that ensures you stay informed about the district’s activities. Additionally, ensure that the same email is sent to leaders at all levels, containing information pertinent to their specific areas of oversight. This will ensure that all leaders are reviewing the same metrics, potentially fostering a sense of friendly competition as they can observe each other’s performance.

    Question: Beyond fill rates, what trends should districts analyze to gauge the health of their substitute program?

    Bill Brancato: To effectively gauge the health of a substitute program, districts should consider several key trends. First, it's essential to understand the ratio of your active substitutes to the average daily absences. For example, districts with 100 average daily absences will need fewer substitutes than those with 1,000. This helps determine if your substitute pool meets demand. Equally important is evaluating how many substitutes are genuinely active and working regularly. It’s common for districts to list many substitutes as active, but a significant number may not have worked in years. Regularly updating and deactivating non-active substitutes ensures an accurate count. 

    Next, assess the frequency with which each substitute works. Determine whether substitutes are working one day a week or five days a week, as this reveals the engagement level of your substitute pool. Monitoring seasonal and cyclical trends, such as high absenteeism periods around major events or during pleasant weather, can allow for proactive measures like offering higher pay on high-absence days. Additionally, calculating the average engagement rate—such as the percentage of substitute teachers accepting jobs regularly—enables better planning. By analyzing these trends, districts can better manage their substitute programs, meeting demand and maintaining high engagement levels. 

    Strategic planning is essential. For instance, on days with anticipated high volumes of absences, such as the day after the Super Bowl or Fridays toward the end of the year you'll want to keep a few things in mind.

    • Avoid scheduling activities like professional development that would increase the demand for substitute teachers. 
    • Consider incentivizing substitutes on these high-demand days to ensure higher acceptance rates. This approach is similar to the surge pricing model used by apps like Uber, which has proven effective. Offering higher pay on days with high absenteeism can boost substitute participation and may reduce costs associated with compensating teachers who are pulled from their breaks to cover classes.
    • If budget constraints are a concern, consider alternative incentives such as raffles for a larger prize leveraging the acceptance of an assignment as entry into the raffle, rather than increasing pay rates across the board. This strategy can be a cost-effective way to manage substitute availability on critical days.

    Question: How does Kelly Education assist districts in collecting, analyzing, and evaluating data? 

    Bill Brancato: Kelly Education offers a comprehensive approach to help districts collect, analyze, and evaluate data. We have data replication services with our absence management partners, enabling us to maintain up-to-date statistics that flow seamlessly into analytical tools. These tools provide valuable insights, ensuring we stay on top of key performance indicators (KPIs) related to substitute management. 

    We believe in a true partnership with districts, so we don't just use this data for our own purposes. We also provide absenteeism data back to the district, helping them understand and manage their operations more effectively. It's not just about having enough substitute teachers or paraeducators; it's also about managing demand. For example, December should be a low-volume absence month due to the holiday break. Districts that manage demand well often see fewer absence requests on average each day in December, while those that don't may experience higher absenteeism as staff take time off for holiday shopping or other activities. 

    We equip districts with tools to compare their performance against similar districts and offer strategies to better manage their demand. This includes implementing policies like restricting leave before or after holiday breaks and encouraging teachers to maintain classroom continuity. This collaborative approach ensures that both Kelly Education and the districts can perform better, fostering a successful partnership rather than a simple client-vendor relationship. 

    Question: Anything we missed or need to revisit? 

    Office-Workers_g1180183017_KEBill Brancato: Absolutely, the final takeaway is to ensure your data works for you. We touched on the importance of integration earlier when discussing how to choose an absence management system. These integrations are crucial because they enable seamless data transfer. For example, if you have an HRIS system and add a new employee, you shouldn’t have to manually enter the same information into your absence management system like Frontline, Red Rover, or PowerSchool. Instead, create a connection between your HRIS and absence management system so that data only needs to be entered once. 

    This approach ensures that any updates, such as changes in last names or school assignments, are efficiently communicated to downstream systems. This integration not only saves time and money but also frees up staff to focus on more impactful tasks rather than repetitive data entry. Eliminating redundant data entry tasks improves the quality of work life for your employees, making them happier and more productive. By leveraging integrated systems, districts can achieve significant cost savings and operational efficiencies, ultimately enhancing overall performance and employee satisfaction. 

    Closing thoughts.

    Absence management systems streamline various processes, and once districts grasp the concept, they typically embrace it enthusiastically. Unlike 20-25 years ago when this technology was less prevalent, many districts today already benefit from some form of absence management system, making transitions much more seamless. 

    However, the mere implementation of technology does not guarantee its full utilization. Twenty years ago, having a robust absence management system in place was a significant achievement. Today, it's a standard expectation. Despite this, many districts with such systems do not leverage them to their fullest potential. By not utilizing all the available features, you are still incurring the costs associated with them, effectively resulting in wasted resources.

    Identifying your goals—whether reducing absenteeism, improving accountability, or ensuring smooth system integrations—is essential to selecting the right technology for your district's needs. Ultimately, the key is to continuously review and act on the data to drive effective improvements. Sharing data widely among peers and decision-makers ensures everyone understands the impact of their decisions, fostering better outcomes district-wide.  

    For further assistance in understanding your goldmine of data or managing your substitute educator program, consider a consultation with our Kelly Education team or explore this helpful resource Your Guide to Building an Effective Substitute Teacher Program. 

    Your expert guide to building an effective substitute teacher program. Get it now.


    About the author: Bill Brancato is the Vice President of IT Systems and Digital Strategy for Kelly Education. With more than 10 years' experience in educational staffing, he's passionate about improving the quality of education for K-12 school districts by solving their challenges related to staffing via a data-driven approach.

    View Related: K-12 School Districts

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