Talent Matters at Oakland Unified School District


Brigitte Marshall, Chief Talent Officer for the Oakland Unified School District

In part one of this two-part Q&A series, EP talks with Brigitte Marshall, Chief Talent Officer for the Oakland Unified School District about why talent matters in Oakland, new human capital initiatives that her team is spearheading, and the importance of data in the district’s human capital strategy.

EP and OUSD have partnered for 10 years, and together brought nearly 60 EP leaders to support Oakland’s work. More than a dozen EP Alumni currently work as full-time staff members for the Oakland district. Next week, in part two of the Q&A series, we talk about the value of an EP partnership for OUSD.

Tell me about your role and work as Chief Talent Officer for Oakland Unified School District.

It’s only the best job in the District! I get to find, keep, and grow extraordinary adults to work in service of Oakland’s children. It doesn’t get better than that. I’ve been really struck by the people who commit to Oakland’s kids and who want to work here. It’s a delight to find folks who are caring, focused, and have the right disposition for our work. We also think deeply about what makes this a great place to work. It’s extremely important for us to think about what kind of employer we want to be, because an organization is only as good as the individuals within it.

What work or initiatives happening across OUSD are you most excited about?

The strategic planning committees. Our new, five-year strategic plan names Effective Talent Programs as our number one priority. Again, an organization is as only as good as the people who work in it. We have an opportunity to take a deep and focused look at a number of our talent program practices so that we can accelerate progress in Oakland. We’re shifting away from a traditional, transactional, human resources approach and toward a human capital development approach.  We believe that we should invest in our people so that they can develop to their full potential in service of Oakland’s children.

The Effective Talent Programs Strategic Plan Committees focus on three critical areas (1) sourcing talent, (2) the early employee experience, and (3) retention.

Sourcing targets the acquisition of talent as well as how we conduct our screening and interview processes. We want to ensure that we attract and bring in individuals who are best positioned to do phenomenal work for our kids.

The Early Employee Experience effort is critical for induction into the OUSD culture, and we are redesigning the intake experience from its current state to span the point when teachers and other staff are hired, to the day they receive tenure. This work is not just about the first few weeks, we want to take on the responsibility to hold and support employees well during that entire employee experience.

We want folks from their very first interaction with OUSD to be able to identify and understand our culture and why this is such an exciting and innovative place to work.

The third subcommittee is Retention. What is it that makes people want to stay? Salary is part of it, and we have a lot of ground to make up there. But equally, if not more important, is the experience of working here: the relationship with your manager, intellectual stimulation, and opportunities for growth and development.  We know breakdowns in these areas contribute more to the reasons most people leave than money.

We have been focusing on these three areas already for the last few years, and now with our new Superintendent and the next iteration of the OUSD Strategic Plan, we have an opportunity to accelerate our work.

Where are the places you’re finding that you need really great talent to make those initiatives and work come to life?

Everyone has a critical role to play, but our schools are the place it happens for kids. Teachers and school leaders are our top priority. Research shows the phenomenal impact teachers can have in unlocking potential and preparing kids to be successful in college, career, and community. Our work is to get and keep the absolute best teachers in front of kids.

Getting and keeping great teachers is very much connected to what happens with school leaders. Teachers stay in their jobs and will go above and beyond when they’re supported in their development and work. It is our experience that when school leaders build a collaborative environment, teachers want to stay and feel more satisfied in their work lives.

Students are our primary customers, and while the immediate providers of service are teachers and principals, there’s a significant list of other essential staff members who work in conjunction with them to ensure that kids are wrapped around with support in everything they do. In OUSD we like to say that all our employees are educators and many of our classified staff are deeply involved in creating the web of support that our students need to achieve their goals. I recently recognized a school security officer who runs an after school singing program for the kids at this school, and a painter who leads an internship program for high school students. Our students need talented and caring individuals all around them.

OUSD has been hiring EP Analyst Fellows since the program launched in 2010. What role do data and analytics play in helping Oakland’s teachers and students?

Data is critically important to supporting our human capital strategy. I’m not sure how we can make really well grounded decisions unless they’re data-based and data-driven. We need to know what makes somebody good, the factors that position someone for success, why people are successful, and why they leave. Without robust data collection and data analysis systems, we can’t make well informed decisions about how best to support talent in the District.

In the last couple of years, we’ve had an intense focus on rigorous data collection and analysis and have invested in a human capital data management system. Our commitment to this practice has coincided with our uptake of Education Pioneers Analyst Fellows and ensuring that we have a cadre of individuals with deep training and knowledge.

Why is education the best place to be working right now?

Our children are extraordinary. I’m humbled every day by the resilience, potential, and hope our children represent. I can’t think of a better way of taking responsibility for the privileges I’ve had than by working to support children to develop their potential, especially our children who have faced significant barriers. Children don’t ask to be born into poverty or to have violence in their communities; they’re situated where they are. Working in education helps position them to flourish. This work is very exciting, forward-looking, and hopeful.

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