Back to School HR Tools & Strategies

6 min read
August 10 2021

This week, the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) released the “Return to School Roadmap,” to support educators, students, parents, and communities as they prepare to return to safe, healthy in-person learning this fall. There are many pandemic-related legal issues that schools should consider as they refine their 2021 reopening plans. These include vaccine requirements, mask wearing and social distancing, and the legal parameters a school can take if only a portion of the school’s community is vaccinated. Educators also need to consider common re-opening practices that may need a fresh look, such as reviewing and updating your employee handbook, employee onboarding and back-to-school training on issues such as discrimination, harassment, professionalism, and mandated reporting.

The DOE Roadmap provides key resources and supports students, parents, educators and school communities to build excitement around returning to classrooms this school year, and outlines how federal funding can support the safe and sustained return to in-person learning. Over the course of the next several weeks as schools reopen nationwide, the Roadmap will lay out actionable strategies to implement the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) updated guidance for K-12 schools, School Settings | COVID-19 | CDC, so that schools can minimize transmission and sustain in-person learning all school year long.


“I’m proud to be releasing these tools to help make sure students, parents, schools, educators and communities receive the communication and support they need to make this academic year a success,” stated U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona. “I want all schools this year to lead with a clear focus on health and safety, student wellbeing and academic acceleration as students return to classrooms nationwide.”

The Return to School Roadmap includes:

  • A checklist that parents can use to prepare themselves and their children for a safe return to in-person learning this fall, leading with vaccinating eligible children and masking up if students are not yet vaccinated
  • A Safer Schools and Best Practices Clearinghouse, which includes over 200 examples of schools and communities safely returning to in-person learning
  • A fact sheet for schools, families and communities
  • A guide for schools and districts outlining what schools can do to protect the health and safety of students, including increasing access to vaccinations

Over the coming weeks, the DOE will provide additional resources to schools, districts, and directly to parents and students, including:

  • Working with partners across the federal government to provide support to schools and districts, answering questions about expanding access to vaccinations for students 12+ and implementing the CDC’s recently updated K-12 school guidance.
  • Holding town halls with parents and parent organizations to highlight ways schools and districts are preparing to keep students safe during in-person learning and underscoring the importance of providing social, emotional, and mental health supports for students in addition to academic supports in schools.
  • Releasing implementation tools for schools, educators, and parents to address and provide information on how American Rescue Plan funds can be used to expand access to mental health support for the nation’s students and educators and provide additional academic support.
  • Updating Volumes 1 and 2 of the DOE’s COVID-19 Handbooks to reflect the recently updated CDC K-12 guidance.


Optimize School Operations, Enrollment & Giving

Employees are at the heart of every organization, and schools are no exception. Educators want to protect students and staff, provide an excellent academic experience, streamline operations and plan for the future. The National Association of Independent Schools’s (NAIS) annual Trendbook explores issues affecting independent schools from multiple perspectives and provides context to help school leaders navigate an ever-changing landscape. From the pandemic’s effect on consumer confidence to the need for EdTech training, the new 2020–2021 NAIS Trendbook has you covered. Here are five key takeaways:

1. The decline in consumer confidence could challenge your school’s value proposition in the long term.

Understanding how the public feels about the economy can help school leaders estimate families’ willingness to commit to paying tuition. As confidence in overall economic conditions rises or falls, so does the likelihood that families will take on or forgo major purchases—such as an independent school education.

2. Enrollment lessons from the Great Recession suggest changes ahead in applications, acceptance, and yield.

During the 2007–2009 Great Recession, the admission funnel changed for many independent schools. Most notably, more than half of schools—54%—reported decreases in applications and many experienced declines of 15% or more. At the same time, schools began accepting a higher percentage of applicants. The median acceptance rate increased by 7 percentage points from 2004–2005 to 2009–2010. Median yield (the number of admitted students who chose to enroll) dropped 6 percentage points between 2004–2005 and 2009–2010. To compensate for reduced applications during the 2007–2009 recession, independent schools also revamped their international recruitment efforts.

As of the 2019–2020 school year, applications had yet to return to their pre-Great Recession levels. Acceptance rates also remained elevated, although they haven’t significantly increased since their recession-era peak. Median acceptance rates were 66% in 2019–2020, compared with 58% in 2004–2005. Despite this, yield returned to a pre-Great Recession median of about 100 newly enrolled students. This is a positive note for schools seeking to ensure continued enrollment beyond the immediate effects of the Coronavirus.

3. Giving patterns in previous recessions offer reasons for tempered optimism about donor commitment.

Past giving patterns suggest that despite the pandemic, donors of all generations will step up to the best of their ability. Independent school giving data for the period before and after the Great Recession show that giving fell slightly through the recession but quickly rebounded. Annual giving per student was $1,310 in 2007–2008, dipped to $1,276 in 2009–2010, and continued to grow after that, reaching a high of $1,633 in 2019–2020.

Recent trends offer other reasons for tempered optimism. The largest donor-advised fund (DAF) in the U.S., Fidelity Charitable, recently reported that donors had directed more than $100 million in grants from DAF accounts in response to COVID-19, boosting total grant volume by 36% in March 2020 over the prior year—a promising sign. New legislation is also likely to spur giving. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act increases tax incentives for charitable giving for almost all taxpayers. Fundraising experts gathered for a Giving USA board meeting offered this advice: “Don’t stop talking to big donors just because the world is being shaken. Past experience shows some donors never forgive the charities that don’t reach out in times of need.” Although many external forces are affecting philanthropy, what drives people to give has always remained the same: the desire to help.

4. Having a diversity practitioner correlates with enrollment success.

In the past decade, recognition of the benefits of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) has increased in all sectors. Independent schools are no exception. In a NAIS analysis of enrollment trends from 2010 to 2020, a strong correlation appeared between enrollment and the presence of a diversity practitioner. Thirty percent of independent schools that added a diversity practitioner saw more than 10% growth in their enrollment. Additionally, 50% that added a practitioner saw moderate growth—up to 10%. Conversely, among schools with no change, 45% saw declines in enrollment of up to 10%. Overall, independent schools with diversity practitioners grew enrollment 4.5%, compared with just 0.6% enrollment growth for schools without diversity practitioners.


5. EdTech training needs to be continuous and collaborative.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, teachers’ confidence in their ability to use education technology was low. In a 2016 national survey, one in three teachers said lack of training was a very significant barrier to the use of technology in the classroom. A 2019 survey found that the percentage had nearly doubled, with 62% of teachers saying they were not at all or only somewhat prepared to use EdTech resources.

Furthermore, in another 2019 survey, only 49% of the teachers surveyed said they had received training that helped them use EdTech in innovative ways. Only 25% said they were provided with timely and relevant research and guidance about which innovations were effective.

Now, with many more students using EdTech to learn remotely, the lessons of online learning research regarding teacher preparation and support are critical. Studies suggest that new technical skills, including an understanding of the privacy and cybersecurity elements of technology, will be necessary. So will a focus on clear and consistent communication protocols, such as setting learning targets and work-completion expectations with students. Training, ideally, should be continuous and collaborative, aligned with professional development best practices, and flexible enough to keep up with the ever-changing nature of technology itself.

How Payroll Network Helps Schools Succeed  

Payroll Network allows you to eliminate the time-consuming and manual tasks that challenge educators. We help schools succeed by providing personal service and a unified Human Capital Management (HCM) platform delivering Payroll, Talent, Time, Tax, HR, Benefits, Compliance, and Workforce Management. Let us help you and your team reach your full potential. While your students count on you, you can count on us. Download our free Cybersecurity Toolkit and share tips and best practices with your community. To learn more about the Payroll Network people platform and how we can help optimize school operations, call 301.339.6001 or contact us here. It’s easy to start, and we’ll even give you one month free.

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