Lisa Boland – Loudoun County Public Schools

Color her a creative type for teacher retention

As the new academic year gets underway in Loudoun County, Virginia, around 100 posters festoon the walls of rooms where teachers and staffers gather.

“We spread good vibes @ Loudoun County Public Schools,” the posters declare on an abstract background that reminds of Peter Max. Colored pencils strategically placed near each one, everyone can embellish the posters as they see fit.

“It makes the schools feel like home and not just a workplace,” Lisa Boland tells Vision in early August with the start of the new school year just weeks away. “A team-bonding moment.”

Lisa Boland – Loudoun County Public Schools

Lisa Boland | Chief Human Resources Officer | Loudoun County Public Schools

And just the latest of Boland’s sometimes-unconventional way of fostering morale as the school district’s chief human resources officer. One can’t emphasize enough how necessary it is to take care of teachers and staff so they can take care of schoolchildren, she emphasizes from her office in Ashburn, Virginia.

There’s much competition for talent here in the northern part of the Old Dominion and she says that’s an understatement. Amazon, Verizon Business, IBM and Boeing are among the bold-face business names that she competes with as schools seek hundreds of new hires—everything from bus drivers to teachers, HVAC technicians, mechanics and carpenters –annually. That’s not even mentioning the competition posed by federal agencies whose expansion has triggered explosive population growth in Loudoun and a vast expansion of its school system.

“We’re fighting the private sector to hire the best people,” she says. “Word of mouth becomes very important. We want our employees to love where they work and to tell their friends to also come to Loudoun County.”

Let word travel

Loudon County Public Schools has 98 schools with more than 83,000 students enrolled for the new academic year. It employs over 14,000 full- and part-timers, all of whom might soon have more to say about how incentivized they’re becoming to make their careers here where Boland, for all practical purposes, considers nothing reasonable as unworthy of consideration.

The cost of living being high in the county and the school district limited in what it can offer for salary, Boland’s agenda includes assembling a tuition-assistance program for teachers as well as for teachers’ assistants and onsite clinicians.

So many teachers’ assistants would make for fine teachers, she says, but in Virginia their salaries may range from $16,000 and $37,500, making professional development often-times unaffordable. Boland’s hoping the county will sign off on her proposed tuition-assistance plan for the 2025 academic year and make it wide ranging to cover other needs.

Lisa Boland – Loudoun County Public Schools

Lisa Boland – Loudoun County Public Schools

“After COVID, there’s been a shortage of school nurses,” she explains. “They can make much more at hospitals and the private sector, but we need them here. Again, we have to be creative. Teacher shortages grab the headlines but the personnel challenges we face go beyond the classroom.”

Her push includes expanding partnerships the county has had with private companies for employee discounts. She identifies the biggest impediments for retention as the rising cost of food, housing and transportation and now, with help from Carrie Simms—a former principal whom the school district has retained as “recognition supervisor”—will push for more companies to see the benefits of partnering with the school system.

While some Loudoun County grocers already offer coupons and discounts to students and teachers who show identification, Boland and Simms want to take it to a new level. They’re approaching apartment complexes and auto dealerships to offer such breaks to the school district’s employees in rents and vehicle leasing and repairs.

Lisa Boland – Loudoun County Public Schools

They’re also working with the self-funded school nutrition department on the development of a program to offer free and reduced breakfasts and lunches for staff. And with the worst of the pandemic hopefully over, the HR department’s Support Services Leadership Academy—a four-day talent development program for non-educators—has resumed.

So, it’s been a busy summer for Boland and Simms, who recently stepped into her role after a distinguished tenure overseeing the J. Michael Lunsford Middle School in Chantilly. While one might think Simms has taken a step back and is taking it easy as retirement age nears, Boland says the former principal gave the best answer when asked why she wants to sustain a role with the county schools.

“She said, ‘I want to leave a legacy,’” Boland recalls. “And every day as a principal, she put out fires. This allows her to start the best of fires.”

Turning up the heat

While Boland’s decades from retirement age, she too is bent on lighting fires and creating programs that will outlive her career. She certainly has a vested interest in this school system, what with two children enrolled in elementary school and two others in high school. All play sports and the two oldest are in ROTC. While Boland says the school system has served them well, she wants it to keep doing so for future generations and is sure to keep coming up with ideas.

She’s been part of the district since March 2015, coming here as an HR specialist and since earning three promotions. Time was when she leaned toward law as a Mount St. Mary’s University undergrad from 1998 to 2002, but that changed after the proprietor of an Outback Steakhouse in Maryland saw she could do more than serve steaks to help pay her tuition.

Lisa Boland – Loudoun County Public Schools

While still a student, Boland became the de facto HR boss for 15 and then 25 regional restaurants, in charge of training, payroll and fielding complaints. She stayed with Outback for nearly nine years, ascending to people support specialist, and furthering her HR skills with roles at Nestle USA, SAIC and Leidos before her present role.

It’s an adjustment, she says, about transitioning to the public sector where it’s hard to keep anything confidential and the delays projects face with multiple chains of command having to sign off. But a mission-critical role can be more fulfilling, albeit in an intangible sense. Nothing’s more important than education, Boland says, and while she isn’t directly teaching youngsters, she takes seriously her role in enabling others to do it.

“We’re focused on the adults and making sure they’re getting what they need to focus on what they do best, providing the best learning environment for our students,” Boland says. “We’re all here for the same reason in the end, the students.”

View this feature in the Vol. V 2023 Edition here.



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