Putting the best talent in front of students in every classroom is among the toughest and most important challenges in public education. Talia Shaull tackles that challenge for the Tulsa Public Schools, where she serves as the Chief Talent Officer.

A native of Peru, Talia, who’s part of the first class of Future Chiefs with Chiefs for Change, talked with us about her path to public education and the push for bold, innovative change in her city’s schools.

When you’re from Peru, is coffee in your blood? Do you still need some to get going in the morning?

Interestingly enough, I didn’t become a coffee drinker until about 10 years ago. Between raising a 9-year-old and working in the world of public education, I definitely need some coffee to get going in the morning. My favorite Peruvian coffee is Urubamba, and whenever my mom visits me she knows to pack a few bags in her suitcase. But I do have to admit I am also a regular at my local Starbucks!

Talk about your background, your education, and your career path.

I was born in Peru and moved to the United States when I was 15 years old. My story is similar to many first-generation immigrants in that my parents left their homeland in search of a safe haven and better opportunities for their family. I know that my experience as an immigrant child deeply shaped my worldview about the power of education and fueled my passion for my career choices.

After working in both corporate and non-profit environments, I was recruited for an exciting opportunity to work at Tulsa Public Schools seven years ago. I joined the Tulsa team as we were embarking upon the journey of supporting teacher effectiveness, and a short time after, I took over the role of Chief Talent Officer, which I’ve held for the past five years.  

As I reflect on my career, I know my path hasn’t always been a traditional one, but I’ve always aspired to have a positive impact on the lives of the most underserved populations. I consider it a privilege to wake up each day and work for the 39,000 students who attend our schools, and I cherish the opportunity to serve them.

You’ve done a lot of work around teacher effectiveness. What’s your take on where we’re at in the conversation around teacher support, evaluation, and tenure?

We are at a point in the conversation where I think we have an opportunity to balance the different components that make up teacher effectiveness for the purpose of improving the student experience. While evaluation systems have provided us a needed opportunity to identify the practices of effective teachers, high-quality teacher supports and professional learning are just as important. A balanced approach that uses data for development helps teachers further refine their practice and grow in the profession. Some of the work we are doing in Tulsa is guided by the belief that a culture of coaching, feedback, and reflection helps teachers improve and positively affects student outcomes.

Your district is known for bold, innovative leadership. What’s the most exciting change happening there?

Our theory of change is built upon the vision that Tulsa Public Schools will be the destination for top educators and a proof point for what is possible in urban education, by embracing innovation and supporting the design and implementation of new learning models while continuously improving teaching and learning for all. I’m particularly excited by our innovation strategy. We are working tirelessly to become a high-performing organization that approaches problem solving using design-thinking principles. Our strategy is built upon a three-pronged approach to help us become the destination for excellent educators by: replicating successful learning and service delivery models; building our capacity for designing transformational student experiences; and creating an ecosystem where design and innovation can flourish.

I hear you and your family like to travel a lot. What’s been your best family trip?

Yes, we definitely like to travel when schedules allow. We have made a commitment to take a trip to a new place at least once a year where we can experience different cultures and settings.  It’s difficult to pick the best family trip, but if I had to replicate one, it would be traveling through small towns in southern Spain (specifically Ronda and Casarabonela, near Málaga) this past Christmas. We thoroughly enjoyed learning about Andalusian Christmas traditions, walking through meandering streets in small picturesque towns, and losing track of time when the only items on the agenda were living and learning.

WHAT DO YOU THINK?