Staff Focus: Allison Whitney, Community and Workforce Engagement Specialist
November 17th, 2020
“Now more than ever, it is incredibly important to talk about mental health and well-being, and elevate staff through recognition. We know that each staff member is facing individual challenges, and it’s our duty to check in on them and provide support when possible,” said Alli Whitney (nee Hedden), who is the behind-the-scenes staff member leading HCPSS’ staff well-being and recognition efforts.
Whitney joined HCPSS with more than a decade of experience working in higher education alumni relations, where she discovered her love of serving as the connector to resources and between people. She grew up in a family with educators and has always enjoyed working in an environment where everyone is there to help the next generation succeed. Her love of relationship building combined with her desire to support teacher success helped lead her to take on HCPSS’ new community and workforce engagement specialist role a couple of years ago.
“During the ongoing pandemic and social unrest, and as we’ve faced a polarized election – we can easily get weighed down by negativity and feel overwhelmed – and that’s why I love my job and want to ensure that I am doing a good job – because I get to focus on and lift up the ‘good,’” Whitney said. “I get to zero in on the bright spots and by sharing those moments and those successes, I believe there is truly a lasting impact on the overall work culture and staff members’ well-being and that trickles down to student achievement.”
Whitney chairs the well-being work group for school administrators and central office leaders. She also supports the well-being work group for all staff by managing the Well-Being Funding Program and working with Employee Well-Being Representatives at each school and office, such as Sarah Mayhew. During the coronavirus pandemic, Whitney has collaborated with many more staff members by working more closely with school administrators on school-specific needs and providing office hours for consultations with Well-Being Representatives.
Whitney said, “I want staff to know there are resources in the school system. If the process seems intimidating, I always encourage people to reach out to me or others with questions.”
She also leads several staff recognition efforts across the school system, including Random Acts of Celebration, which has transitioned in recent months to surprise celebrations during virtual meetings. Due to the overwhelming volume of nominations received during the pandemic, she developed a new peer-to-peer staff recognition program that automatically generates a recognition certificate. To date, there have been more than 600 digital certificates since the peer-to-peer program’s inception this summer.
“Staff recognition is incredibly important in reinforcing an employee’s value. I believe positivity is contagious, and I love being the giver of joy,” Whitney said.
Whitney also plays a large role in community engagement around major school system efforts, helping to support engagement opportunities and coordinating the work of various advisory committees. She works with Chief Administrative Officer Jahantab Siddiqui, who said: “Alli embodies what Superintendent Martirano wanted to see in workforce and community engagement by providing assistance and resources to divisions and schools, helping recognize hundreds of staff members to boost morale and enhancing the system’s community engagement efforts. We’re fortunate to have Alli’s dedication, innovation and willingness to always help out as she continues to improve and build on our well-being program for over 8,000 fulltime staff members.”
Whitney herself has a stellar employee record, with her work also being recognized by her former employer, University of Baltimore, with the UB Outstanding Service Award.
A Look at Alli Whitney’s Impact at the School Level
Folly Quarter Middle School Principal Megan Chrobak has developed well-being initiatives across middle schools and translated systemwide recognitions to the school level through her work with Whitney on well-being workgroups and with her school.
“Alli is such a resource for us. She has been a constant support and source of ideas as we work on the funding program process for virtual fitness class options for staff, set up fun fitness challenges for middle school administrators and more,” Chrobak said. “And the student and staff recognitions we’ve created based on the county models, with specific and real-time positive feedback, have been instrumental in building community in the virtual setting.”
Folly Quarter sixth grader Chloe Huxford said her recent recognition “made me feel so noticed and recognized. I was like ‘oh my gosh teachers actually notice me and my efforts!’” In turn, her mother, Krysta S. Huxford said, “Receiving an email from Mrs. Chrobak with such a positive message regarding our daughter’s efforts in class genuinely brightened our family’s day. In this virtual school setting, having a teacher take the initiative to recognize a student in this manner truly facilitated a connection with not only our daughter, but also our family to her new school. It really provides reassurance that our daughter is on the right track toward academic success!”
Folly Quarter sixth grade math teacher Soojung Kim – who was celebrated with a virtual Random Act of Celebration as a result of the many positive shout outs she received from students and families – said: “It has been challenging to work as a team in a virtual setting, but the opportunity to give and receive positive feedback really helped me to focus on building relationships and appreciate my colleagues and the community. Positive workplaces and positive learning environments spawn positive outcomes.”
School Counselor Robin Luongo described the importance of Folly Quarter’s student recognitions with: “One thing we can do to encourage our students to continue to engage with us and their peers is to highlight when we see them doing well. Whether that is an academic achievement, including or connecting with a classmate in the virtual classroom, taking a risk and leaving their camera on, or meeting a personal goal, these little acknowledgments can turn the tide of stressful moments to a more positive experience.”