Five Questions … With Dr. Carol Kindt, Associate Superintendent, Human Resources and Development
It’s probably a good idea not to tell Carol Kindt she can’t do something. Because she will move heaven and earth to prove you wrong.
Take this example from her college years.
As an undergraduate student at the University of Central Florida, she had two children. She had six credit hours left to complete her degree, but she was stressed. She told her mother she planned to take the summer off and finish her hours in the fall.
“My own mother said to me, ‘If you don’t continue now, you’ll never finish,’” she says. “Of course, I took the six credits that summer and got a 4.0.”
But she didn’t stop there.
She went on to get a master’s degree from Nova Southeastern University and a doctorate from the University of Florida, which she earned while working as a principal. When she started her doctorate, her sons were in the sixth and fourth grades. When she finished, her oldest was finishing up his freshman year at the University of Florida.
“It was important to show them that you can do anything you want to,” she said. “They always knew they were my priority. That’s why the doctorate took so long. Because there was a lot of life that happened that I didn’t want to miss out on. Being an educator myself, I needed them to see that if I had a goal I could reach it, even if it was difficult.”
Before coming to MCPS last June, Kindt spent 19 years in educational leadership for Orange County (Fla.) Public Schools, the 10th largest district in the country and the second largest employer in Central Florida (the largest is Disney). After starting as a paraprofessional in an elementary school, she worked as a middle school English teacher, a team leader, an administrative dean (with duties similar to an assistant principal) at a Title I school, and an elementary and middle school principal. She has worked in schools in affluent neighborhoods and in schools with very diverse student populations (students at her middle school spoke 32 different languages) and with high rates of poverty.
“I’m not afraid to walk through the fire, ever,” Kindt says. “I’m not saying there aren’t moments that scare me. But I’m never, ever afraid. I believe in what we do for children. Someone has to be out there willing to take that first step and jump. That’s what I learned through those experiences.”
After being principal at a middle school for seven years, she told her area superintendent she wanted a change.
“I loved the kids; I loved the teachers; I loved my community,” she says. “But I was not objective anymore. I couldn’t see the forest for the trees.”
Armed with more than her share of chutzpah, she already had her eye on the prize: senior executive director of human resources, though she had no experience in the field. “Honestly, I thought: no way,” she says. “I waited until the last day it was advertised to apply.” She was called to the superintendent’s office, where he laid out the expectations for such a position.
She got the job. “The first thing I did was I went out and bought a book on HR,” she laughs. In that position, her last in Orange County, she oversaw five departments and about 115 employees.
After about seven years and a trophy-case worth of recognitions, she felt restless. “I absolutely loved it there,” she said. “But there was no more I could do.”
“I had seen such robust resumes coming across my desk,” she says. “I felt I was lacking in that. I knew HR; I knew Orange County. I wasn’t sure that was supposed to be my ending spot.”
When she was contacted by a recruiting firm searching for an associate superintendent of human resources for MCPS, she threw her hat in the ring. Again, she landed the job.
Her last night in Orange County was June 5, 2015, the day her team was awarded the Governor’s Sterling Award for performance excellence in management and operations.
“It was brilliant,” she said. “It was the most gratifying professional moment of my life and personally gratifying to have so much of my staff there. More than 70 of them were there.”
Where did you grow up? Did you always have aspirations of going into education?
I’m from Cocoa Beach, Fla. My father worked as an engineer for the space program. He worked on security satellites and did missile launches. Where I lived, I was as close as you could get to the first shuttle launching. Back in the ’70s, there were parades with astronauts and presidents would come down.
As a student in high school, I was very interested in teaching. I started working for Walt Disney World. I wanted to go into entertainment, and I also wanted to do hotel motel management. My first job was driving a 22-foot sailboat in an air and water show at EPCOT. After that, I worked in retail in a hotel and the guests were so tense. When people go on vacation, they can be tense because they want everything to be perfect. They were yelling at me, and I thought, ‘I don’t want to do this.’
I was thinking about going into law, so I changed my major to English. While in college, I had my children and I needed to get paid. I couldn’t afford to get my law degree after I got my bachelor’s. So I went into teaching and the first day of school, I walked in, it was complete chaos. In my heart, I said to myself, ‘You’re going to run this place someday.’ I have no idea where that came from, but that’s never left me. I knew I was in the right environment. I loved the adrenaline, the kids, the excitement.
I worked for three years in that elementary school as support staff. Then I became an English teacher for 6th and 7th grades at two different schools. My second year, I was the team leader. I liked the responsibility. I could see the broader impact you could have.
Talk about some of the concrete changes you’ve made since coming to MCPS.
When I came on board, I met with every one of my 113 employees. I did 40 hours of just listening. … I learned where we sat with regard to job satisfaction, employee engagement, workload, cross training. We started a reorganization in September.
What I did initially was combined staffing and certification into one department, so those functions could be more streamlined.
It’s important to be very aggressive and strategic with how we recruit. We needed a 12-month recruitment plan. We had people doing staffing and recruiting at the same time, so they had to stop recruiting at some point because you have to do the transactional work to get the new employees hired. So, the recruitment would fall off.
I started a talent acquisition unit; we have four people there now. We’ve gotten very strategic in how we began using ambassadors — principals and directors and some teachers that will help us with interviewing during our big recruitment fair.
We’re making enhancements to the applicant tracking system; that’s the first time someone sees who we are. If that’s a frustrating experience, I don’t know how many we’re losing.
We’ve also been creating HR branding for MCPS. When you are competing for talent, even regionally, we have to command that room. We have to understand what is unique about coming to Montgomery County. Our location is brilliant. We pay well, we have tremendous benefits, an opportunity for tuition reimbursement so they can further their education, plus a lot of support through the unions.
You have to understand this generation; millennials are very close to their parents. So when you’re in Michigan and you offer someone a job, they will say, ‘I’ve got to ask my mom.’ It sounds bizarre, but it’s true. Because the parents are thinking, ‘You’re going to take my beautiful 22-year-old and move them across the country,’ they have to be given something that will help them transition to their next steps, personally and professionally. It’s got to be something they can show to their parents; you have to create that kind of media for them, with information on housing, shopping, night life. How will they integrate into the community? What do they do; where do they plug in? You have to be on the edge and creative. You have to know what makes them tick.
When I first got here, we were in the midst of the Child Abuse and Neglect training for staff. This was something I had responsibility for in Orange County, so it wasn’t unfamiliar to me. We were also rolling out an Employee Code of Conduct, again not unfamiliar to me. These two components were going to have a tremendous impact on the district but also a direct impact on the capacity of human resources. We needed more support in PECU [Performance Evaluation Compliance Unit] so principals could focus on their roles as instructional leaders. We, as HR, have to be the service provider to help take certain types of work off their plates. We were approved for an assistant director to help with that.
What’s important for people to know is that every hire is a risk and you try to mitigate that risk up front by doing fingerprint and CPS [Child Protective Services] background checks. We employ human beings, who have lives that sometimes take turns that we can’t predict. People make poor choices. The employee has rights and the children are our responsibility. We’re not afraid to investigate anything. It is important to take the time to do proper investigations to protect the child and serve the employee.
I’ve discovered here is that we have wonderful discussions on equity and what that means as a district. So what does that look like in human resources? We took feedback from school-based leadership. When I talked to Title I principals, often they felt frustrated because they felt they weren’t getting the same opportunities because people feel their schools come with more challenges. So now, on the first day of voluntary transfer season, Title I principals are able to interview candidates at their schools. They used to do it in clusters with every other school. Now, they get their own day and it is at their school. Candidates can come to these schools, see that these are beautiful schools and they’re sitting here in an office with a smart principal and showing me all the resources you get in Title I. Those principals are also getting the opportunity to offer open contracts a day before all the other principals. That’s what equity looks like.
You’ve lived in Maryland less than a year and you’ve already experienced a blizzard. As a Florida girl, how was that?
I loved it.
I got advice from people. Buy milk, bread, eggs and toilet paper. I wasn’t sure whether I would be making French toast or what!
I thought the snow was absolutely beautiful. I met many of my neighbors for the first time. I remember opening my front door and laughing at the amount of snow. Having a garage here was the single smartest decision I ever made.
In Florida, I’ve been in hurricanes with brooms and rakes and chainsaws flying around. As a principal, my school was an emergency shelter. I spent many nights in my office with hundreds of people in the gymnasium. That was not fun; it was a lot of work. Snow is better.
What do you do when you’re not at work?
Right now, I’m trying to integrate into the community. I’ve visited several churches. I’m doing things I’ve never done before, like learning how to shovel snow.
I travel when I can. I love to explore the area. I’ve been to Annapolis, Alexandria, obviously to Washington, D.C. My oldest brother just moved to Lynchburg, so I’ve been there. I’ve been to Cape May, N.J. I went down and saw Star Wars at the IMAX Theatre at the Smithsonian. I went to Times Square in New York at Christmas, and saw the 9/11 Memorial.
Exploring the area has been fantastic. I have friends who come up and visit and I’m discovering the people and the area.
Is there any other job you’d ever like to have?
I don’t know that I can categorize it as a job. What I know I want is to continue to work in an area where I feel passionate and that I believe every night when I go home that I’ve made a difference. What’s important to me is doing the work in front of me; that’s all I’ve ever done. When you concentrate on that, things automatically open up.
Five Questions is a series produced by MCPS that celebrates the staff of the 17th largest school system in the United States. This piece was originally published at news.montgomeryschoolsmd.org.