Jennifer Foreman – Charter Schools USA
- Written by: Neil Cote
- Produced by: Victor Martins & Shaun Nadeau
- Est. reading time: 4 mins
By spring, Jennifer Foreman and her colleagues will be paging through the results of an employee-engagement survey that began in mid-January.
It’s just the most recent project Foreman has either initiated or expanded at Charter Schools USA since the fall of 2021 when she became chief human resources officer of this education management organization that, at last count, operates nearly 100 schools serving 75,000 students across the nation.
“We’re in a very competitive marketplace with a teacher shortage,” she tells Vision from headquarters in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. “Not many young people want to get into teaching so it’s necessary to recruit and retain them.”
She oversees recruitment strategies that include job fairs, website pitches, and partnerships with colleges and universities in the states where Charter Schools USA operates. A campus presence is especially effective at attracting young people, she says, but once they’re in the organization, the challenge becomes keeping them beyond their average stay of about four-and-a-half years. That’s average in education, but still lower than what the organization would like.
The survey should bolster retention effort, says Foreman, who’s enlisted a firm called Great Place to Work, which bills itself as the global authority on workplace culture and has been retained by such behemoths as American Express, Bank of America, Comcast and Hilton. Its data scientists customize a survey on employee satisfaction and compare the results to data garnered from similar employers.
All starts with trust
Among the Great Place metrics is whether employees trust their company. Are they treated fairly by managers? Would they recommend their place of employment to others? Are pay and benefits to their satisfaction? How do they enjoy interacting with their colleagues? Is there an opportunity to grow professionally?
Should responses to these questions be generally positive, Great Place will certify Charter Schools USA as indeed a great place to work. Great Place’s efforts also are intended to complement the involvement of other firms that Foreman has enlisted.
There’s FranklinCovey, a general corporate coaching firm noted for developing leadership and creative culture. Last year the firm implemented CSUSA’s leadership training program. CSUSA has also implemented three days of intensive in-person training for new school leaders as well as a 90-day onboarding process.
And for those teaching the STEM subjects of science, technology, engineering and math, job options can be many—there being such demand from the software and microchip industries and, essentially, any company with a tech need. Foreman says recruiting and retaining such talent is Charter Schools USA’s primary challenge but that her employer might be better positioned in this regard.
A public-private mix
While charter schools are still public schools, they’re run privately and tuition-free and, in this case, by a leadership team headed by Jon Hage, a former U.S. Army Green Beret and education visionary who founded this company in 1997. Largely free from the controversies of traditional public schools, parental involvement is welcomed. Students from kindergarten to grade 12 wear uniforms, discipline is rigid, and athletics and high achievement is emphasized.
As proof of the overall effectiveness, Foreman cites a 95 percent satisfaction rate from parents and a 95 percent graduation rate. As to what that rate is among staff, she looks forward to seeing the results from the firms she’s outsourced to bring in the metrics.
Her own morale doesn’t suffer, Foreman saying how she relishes this role. While she’s a long-time HR professional, this marks her entrance in academia after previous stretches in management consulting, beverages, technology and health care.
How she even got into HR is a story in itself, Foreman describing her upbringing as “a tale of three islands.” Born in Barbados, she grew up in Trinidad and then married a Jamaican man. She earned degrees in economics in 1990 and development studies in 1994 from the University of the West Indies in Trinidad and Jamaica and worked two years as a management consultant for Price Waterhouse on those two islands.
It was in Jamaica where Foreman opted for an HR role in 1997 with beer brewer Red Stripe, which came to be owned by London-headquartered Diageo. She worked there from 1997 to 2013, ascending to global HR change strategy director and based in South Florida which has become home to Foreman, her husband and two grown sons.
HR’s evolving role
She left Diageo for HR roles of three years each with Tyco and Mount Sinai Medical Center Miami Beach, then took a similar position with ChenMed until moving to Charter Schools USA.
Her role is especially consequential at Charter Schools USA, encompassing much more than overseeing payroll and benefits. Her department affects nearly 8,000 employees in Florida, Georgia, Louisiana and the Carolinas. Charter schools being closely watched, she’s vigilant about minding details.
“The HR role also is about legal compliance,” she says. “We won’t get into trouble because we realize that our people are our most important asset. We can’t achieve our goals without the right people on board.”
Her ongoing challenges include doing her part to find and keep those people. And while her path to education was a long and winding one, she says it’s been well worth it.
“I’ve enjoyed every industry I’ve worked in,” Foreman says. “But the longer I worked, the more I wanted a greater purpose. First I found it in health care and then with education. It’s so rewarding to help mold the minds of young people who will soon oversee moving society along.”
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