As Florence Unified School District began the 2021-22 school year, we faced many of the same challenges as other public-school districts across the state, including the need to hire and retain highly qualified certified teachers and classified staff.
Despite insurmountable challenges, Thad Gates, director of school improvement, had a plan and just like a Marvel superhero movie, he assembled a team of creative employees to not only overcome these challenges, but also to create a culture of appreciation that is based in fostering stronger staff relationships and making meaningful connections throughout the district. Thus, the recruit and retention committee was formed.
As Gates explains, now more than ever, recruiting and retaining quality educators is one of the most important areas of focus in public school districts throughout Arizona. COVID-19 has magnified the teaching shortage, as well as the hiring of classified staff, and we must continue to strive to be creative and resilient in our efforts to employ and retain outstanding classified and certified personnel.
In the Florence Unified School District, we have worked to implement a variety of employee recognitions, as well as connection and engagement activities to boost morale, praise and create opportunities for our employees to have fun and connect with one another in a variety of settings.
Some recent examples of employee engagement include Veterans Day hikes, fitness boot camps and holiday painting events for employees. In addition, Gates and his committee created a “Surprise Squad,” a small group of over-enthusiastic, positivity-spreading individuals whose sole purpose is to seek out and recognize the efforts of our employees.
Over the last year, 168 employees who have been nominated by their peers, have been recognized by the “surprise squad” showing up to their work sites and bursting in to amaze them with a noisemakers and cheers, along with a certificate and asmall gift of gratitude.
In addition, one of the squad members reads aloud a short paragraph filled with all the reasons this person was nominated to be recognized. Many employees who are “surprised” are filled with emotion, and the students and staff nearby usually respond with an eruption of cheers and extend their own congratulations. These are just a few examples of our most recent efforts to recognize and “Grow Our Own” employees who go above and beyond to support our students every day.
Having strong roots
At the Florence Unified School District’s Governing School Board Meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 11, eight employees who have been with the district for 20-plus years were recognized for their loyalty, dedication and service to the students and families they serve throughout the district.
Surrounded by friends, family and their peers, Gates called upon each employee, who was then congratulatedby the governing board members and then presented with their brick. Just as these employees have strengthened the foundation of FUSD, each award recipient now has an engraved brick that will be forever bound to one of the pillars of the Florence Unified District Office building.
This symbolism reflects the ideology that some of the great legacies of history come from people who have dedicated their lives to the service of humanity. Leaving a visual legacy for other employees to follow builds on the concept of belonging in which employees feel connected to each other, not as individuals, but more like a family.
“FUSD has always had a family feel to it,” said Shawn Cluff, assistant principal and athletic director for Florence High School. “There are great leaders in our district. It has been a privilege to work for FUSD for 25-plus years. I was born a Gopher, raised a Gopher and will die a Gopher. It is an honor to be part of the first group recognized by FUSD with a service brick attached to our historical 'Old Main' high school building.”
Every employee represents a building block of many, but by working together toward a common goal, these efforts aid in solidifying the enduring foundation of Florence Unified.
Strong stems offer support
Although the Recruit and Retention Committee has laid the foundation to foster an environment that supports, engages and motivates teachers and staff, it could not be successful without the support from school site principals and district administration.
Legacy building is part of the bigger picture that helps keep everyone focused on long-term goals and gives us value so that we can judge our actions by.
School leaders help to improve employee engagement by clearly defining and communicating the district’s mission and vision. Finding the time to celebrate, reflect and share in the joy of an employee’s accomplishments is a welcomed reprieve to the daily stress and responsibilities school site principals face. When a principal or administrator participates with the Surprise Squad, they often comment on how these moments of joy bring renewed spirit to their day and how they can actually see the impact it has on the entire staff. These celebrations are genuine, organic and truly appreciated by the staff.
Fertilizing the soil
The legacy of the eight individuals recognized for 20-plus years of service will fertilize the soil for others to lay roots and grow with FUSD in the future.
As we begin the recruiting season for the 2022-23 school year, we can build a sense of trust with prospective new hires through the dedication exemplified by our current FUSD employees.
As the profession of education becomes more challenging in the future, creating humane environments that acknowledge and celebrate such milestones and accomplishments will continue to be beneficial to FUSD “Growing Our Own.”
Rita Reznick serves as director of communications for the Florence Unified School District.
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