Finding Teacher Talent – Advice from Mike Piscal Head of Andre Agassi Preparatory Academy

The 2011 Schools That Can Forum was packed with informative and open panels, one of which addressed how to find and evaluate teacher talent.

Mike Piscal started the conversation and shared what he’s gone through in his transition to improve Andre Agassi’s school which included hiring a monumental number of new staff. Mike Piscal is the Former CEO of STC School View Park Prep in LA, and the current Head of School at the Andre Agassi College Preparatory Academy in Las Vegas, NV. When he started at the Andre Agassi Preparatory Academy, the school was huge but empty – while there was room for nearly 1500 kids, only 600 attended. He hired 40 teachers and 15 administrators in 4 months, and he needed to make sure they were up for a challenge:

“99% of a Principals job is making sure he hires the best teachers.”

Mike asked all applicants to come on site for and complete two writing samples:

Question 1: What inspired you to become a teacher?
Question 2: What makes you think you are a gifted enough teacher to change the course of a child’s life?

30 minutes were allowed for each question, and they were thoroughly checked for mistakes. Minor mistakes in spelling and grammar could be compensated by passion:

“If you can’t answer powerfully we aren’t interested.”

After narrowing candidates from the writing sample, Mike brought them in for demo lessons. He was not interested in a convention interview:

“Interviews are worthless. Some people can really sell themselves but be terrible in the classroom.”

He’s also wary of classroom demos, so instead he had his teacher candidates give lessons to the actual students that would be attending the school and their parents. While the students and teachers did not pick the teachers, they had power to veto teachers and provided very useful feedback. After one teacher presented, Mike recalls a student saying, “Mr. Piscal, she is a nice lady but we would walk all over her.” Mike then interviewed the parents and asked, “Could this teacher change your child’s life?”

While his effective practices might not be the best for every school, these are great tools to consider when hiring new teachers. This sharing of effective practices between school leaders is a hallmark of what we do here at STC.

Insight from other panelists coming soon!

Want to know more about Mike? Watch our interview with him from the 2010 Forum in Newark: