In December of 2019, Noble announced the formation of a Staff Retention Steering Committee (SRSC) charged with coming together to discuss and recommend changes at Noble that would continue to make work more sustainable in the long term. The group met six times between January and February 2020 before COVID-19 mitigations interrupted and slowed work down a bit. Despite shifting to remote learning, the group was able to land on recommendations that were shared with the Noble community during the first quarter all-staff professional development. As we returned from winter break to kick off 2021, we sat down with Ellen Metz, Noble’s Head of Schools who led the committee, to learn more about the SRSC and the work ahead. 

Q: Can you describe the SRSC – who was on it and how did you work together?
A: Sure, thanks, Matt. The SRSC was made up of 18 staff members from across Noble, including teaching staff, campus leaders, and members of the Noble Support Team. The goal was to make recommendations that would enhance the Noble staff experience, and so we started with the data of our Staff Engagement Survey. This helped us narrow our focus, and from there we used small working groups to tackle issues. Each group presented a recommendation, and the whole group provided feedback that helped create the final set of recommendations. 

Q: What were the key recommendations from the committee?
A: Though not the full list some of the notable recommendations include:

  • We adjusted the academic calendar to lengthen summer break and reversed the order of Network PD and Campus PD to better facilitate development (now quarterly Noble-wide PD days are on Thursdays so teachers can share best-practices and analyze data across campuses and then campus PD days are on Fridays so teachers can work together on implementation)
  • We built a normed definition of how campus flex days are used across all 18 campuses (flex days are days individual campuses have flexibility to shorten schedules to provide teachers more work and development time)
  • We eliminated performance bonuses to increase predictable base pay and introduced guidelines to further increase predictability and equity in campus leadership salary.  
  • We will continue to study industry-best parental leave policies and plan to further enhance our PTO policies and practices
  • We committed to continue refining our baseline curriculum and build in more development for advisors into PD schedules. 

Q: What other recommendations did you consider?
A: There are recommendations that are going to take some time, either because COVID impacted the need (e.g. in-house sub policies), or that require a longer runway financially (e.g. improved and published coaching stipends).  And, there are some that we have decided not to implement. 

For example, there was a recommendation to consider rewarding advanced degrees with additional compensation on the salary schedule. Upon further review, we ultimately decided to continue to acknowledge the value of a number of diverse experiences in our salary schedule as we do currently. There are many levers that add significant value to student outcomes and experiences in the classroom – prior professional experience, being a Noble alumni, military experiences, career work in the content area being taught, etc. – we have chosen to honor all of these levers via a competitive pay scale for all staff rather than singling out advanced degrees as the most impactful and creating internal inequity based on degrees which did not have external research to validate as more impactful.  

Q: How did the lens of antiracism at Noble inform the work of this committee?
A:  First, the formation of a diverse group of colleagues coming together to examine policies and practices is core to antiracist work.  Noble is a wonderful organization, but we aren’t perfect.  Self-critique is crucial, and we embrace that exercise.  Our goal was to create a more equitable experience, and that I think, is also some of the most important antiracist work we can do. We have to consider the experiences of our staff, specifically our staff of color, and respond to the data which was showing us that the experiences at high equity index campuses vary from the experiences at lower equity index campuses.  This was something the SRSC did intentionally in our data analysis – we looked specifically at staff experience by campus. (Editor’s note: for more information about the Noble Equity Index please read our strategic plan, specifically pages 5-8)

Q: Did the shifts due to COVID-19 adjust the work or outcomes of the SRSC?
A: When COVID hit, our work had mostly come to a close and all that was left was to submit our final recommendations and share our work with the Noble community. That was clearly delayed, but the team really stepped up to provide feedback on our reopening plans. Over the summer, the SRSC pivoted to a reopening refine team and attended a series of feedback sessions to view versions of reopening plans with a staff retention lens; I am so grateful for their time and the critical feedback that shaped the current plan.

Q: What’s next?
A: Staff experience and retention is certainly not a check box. We were thrilled to see more than 86% of Noble staff return to Noble this year and we want to sustain that momentum over time. We always want to prioritize the experience of our staff so that we can keep the talented people that are part of Noble. Looking ahead Noble will form a standing Staff Experience Steering Committee which will monitor the progress of the accepted recommendations and will provide feedback on policy, practice, and initiatives that impact staff experience. They, of course, will be charged with continuing to do this through a lens of antiracism. 

M: Thanks so much for making the time!

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