A unique public-private collaboration is leading to big HR results for one of the nation’s largest school systems.
In February, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools and Bank of America, headquartered in Charlotte, N.C., entered into an executive-on-loan partnership in which the school system is “borrowing” bank exec Gerri Parker as its interim CHRO. Parker, senior vice president of business operations in the bank’s global technology and operations division, remains on the bank’s payroll but is working full-time on-site at CMS through early 2019.
When Superintendent Clayton Wilcox came on board last year, he replaced the HR lead, a former CMS teacher and principal, with an interim in-house leader; while the search for a permanent director commenced, he and BOA leadership entered talks about an executive-on-loan initiative.
“They felt that my skills and experience in multiple industries–and including finance, HR, tech and operations–would add value to CMS,” Parker says.
Before taking on her current BOA post in 2016, Parker spent nearly 10 years as the bank’s senior vice president of HR. She previously worked in finance and later HR at Whirlpool Corp. and as an analyst at Procter & Gamble Co.
She says she was a “little surprised” about the proposition of taking on the CMS position but, once she learned more about the executive-on-loan partnership program–the bank has forged similar relationships with other organizations–she was eager to dive in.
“The bank is looking for ways to contribute to the community more than through financial sponsorships and volunteer hours, and I truly think this is a great way to help the community grow,” she says.
In a statement, CMS spokesperson Tracy Russ says the partnership “exemplifies Bank of America’s continuing support of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, and the district looks forward to leveraging Gerri’s private-sector experience and leadership developed over a 22-year career in human resources, finance and operations.”
Parker says her first order of business upon assuming the post was to onboard herself–doing a deep dive into the school system’s operations, culture and past HR practices, while establishing relationships with key stakeholders.
In mid-June, the system announced the reorganization of the HR function to align it with the district’s professional-development division and expand its scope beyond school-based staff to include all employees–19,000 in total. CMS is the second-largest employer in North Carolina and among the 20 largest school systems in the nation.
Parker says she’s also started implementing new processes for working with third-party vendors for background checks to improve efficiency and time-to-hire, launched a new compliance-training program and a platform for customizable, virtual training, as opposed to the previous on-site, four-hour orientation session.
The system’s HR operations are currently spread across eight different platforms, and Parker has partnered with the finance and technology departments to explore new enterprise-resource-planning-software solutions. “We’re looking at how to optimize HR-platform capabilities and reduce reliance on various systems and manual, paper-based processes,” she says.
While Parker hadn’t worked in the education field prior to this post, she’s been able to draw some similarities between CMS and BOA, as both are highly regulated sectors. However, the CMS position has required additional work navigating state and federal statutes, she notes.
The district recently re-launched its search for a permanent CHRO, with the intent for Parker to facilitate his or her onboarding before she transitions back into her role at the bank.
“The opportunity to step outside [of BOA] and do this work has presented great development opportunities for me personally,” she says. “I’m going to share my experiences with my colleagues at the bank and want to continue to look at how we can continue to support the school district and be the best community partners we can possibly be.”