Chief Human Resources Officer Emre Altun works for Harmony Public Schools in Houston, Texas. Emre held a number of positions at Harmony during the course of his career, including those of assistant principal, assistant director of special programs, director of human resources, director of global talent, and chief human resources officer.
Emre was born and raised in Turkey. One of Turkey’s most esteemed universities, Bosphorus University in Istanbul, Turkey, is where he earned his bachelor’s degree in electrical and electronics engineering. As a first generation immigrant, Emre arrived in the United States in 2005 to pursue his Master’s degree. He holds a Master’s Degree in Gifted and Talented Education from the University of Houston. Giving back to the community by being part of educating future generations has always been a passion of Emre. Even though he was studying an engineering major back in college, he always participated in volunteer teaching work within its community.
After Emre came to the U.S., he decided to make teaching a full-time job. So, he joined Harmony to teach middle school math.
Below are highlights of the interview:
Tell us about your role and responsibility at Harmony Public Schools.
Harmony Public Schools is a system of 60 public charter schools in Texas that provides rigorous, high-quality education focused on science, technology, engineering, and math. Through a caring and collaborative environment, Harmony provides students from traditionally underserved communities the opportunity to excel through project-based learning, where they learn the skills necessary to become a contributing global citizen.
As the Chief Human Resources Officer at Harmony Public Schools, I provide leadership in the operation of the Human Resources Department in such a manner as to enhance the performance and morale of Harmony employees, promote the overall efficiency of the school system by ensuring that student learning and well-being is the primary focus.
What are the institution’s educational offerings?
We place a very high emphasis on learning for both students and staff. Our schools are rated very highly by the Texas Education Agency for both academics and financial accountability based on state assessment results. On top of academic achievements, we also focus on building a very strong school culture across the board. As of the end of the 21–22 school year, 13 of our campuses were recognized as either state or national Schools of Character, which is a very hard distinction to earn. Students, parents, and staff collaborate and work very hard to establish a strong school culture that will lead to character school recognition. Our goal in the next few years is to earn this recognition on all of our campuses.
As for our employees, we promote lots of unique learning opportunities for them in addition to the standard professional development sessions they receive throughout the year. Just to give a few examples, Harmony provides financial support to eligible employees through tuition assistance and assistance with tuition-related expenses incurred by employees striving to attain certification or a graduate degree. In addition, all of our first and second year teachers are assigned a mentor to support them on the job. Furthermore, we offer free LinkedIn Learning courses to all staff to give them the opportunity to grow in their professional careers.
Tell us about your contribution in redefining the Human Resources industry.
Honestly, having an engineering background has given me a great perspective when dealing with HR issues and projects. With that in mind, we have always looked for ways to invest in our employees including utilizing external partnerships. We were awarded multiple grants from the U.S. Department of Education and other governmental or corporate institutions. Race to the Top District ($30 million), Teacher Incentive Fund (TIF) ($26.7 million), Education, Innovation, and Research (EIR-$8 million), and, most recently, Teacher and School Leader (TSL) ($27.8 million) are some of the programs in question. Thanks to these grants, we have made a lot of great projects happen. Just to give you an example for one of these projects, Harmony is one of the few school districts in Texas that has been implementing an effective performance-based compensation system for its teachers and administrators. Our performance-based system qualified us to participate in the State’s Teacher Incentive Allotment (TIA) program which allows our teachers the opportunity to earn a six-figure salary. Harmony has been pioneering this as well as many other new initiatives in the public education industry. Investing in our employees has always been a priority for me in the Human Resources department.
Who do you collaborate with the most to drive growth and success?
Our senior leadership team, especially our CEO, has always been supportive of my work, and they have always given constructive feedback to drive growth and success. In addition, I have an amazing team in my department. I feel so fortunate to be part of this incredible team. They are the true contributors to our success.
How do you think about building a digitally advanced team?
Harmony is a public charter school system that has a strong emphasis on STEM education. As a result, technology has become an essential component of our programs. We utilize technology to improve our day-to-day processes and functions in HR, and I encourage all of my team members to improve their technical skills, as there is always room for improvement when it comes to technology.
What were the roadblocks that taught you valuable lessons in your professional journey?
I could say that taking actions so quickly without considering potential impacts or side effects may sometimes result in an undesirable outcome. I always suggest to my colleagues that they look at the full picture and receive input from all stakeholders before taking an important action.
Tell us what is your vision for the institute and how do you wish to influence change?
My vision for our department is to make sure all employees in Harmony are valued, appreciated, and engaged. To achieve this, we approach all components of an employee’s lifecycle from that perspective. Some of these components include attracting, hiring, onboarding, engaging, performing, developing, and departing. To influence change, bite-sized steps should be taken towards the shared vision and goals. In the HR world, there is a huge risk of failing a change process if the timing and methodology are not diligently planned and followed.
What are the most important attributes of successful leaders? What advice would you give to the next generation of leaders?
In my opinion, a successful leader should be a good listener, value teamwork by being a role model to inspire it, and show a strong sense of empathy. My advice to the next generation of leaders would be to invest in their team members and think outside the box to attract, engage, and retain talent, as we need innovative ideas in the HR world.