Garrard County Schools’ Joe Brown has been on the school board for 28 years, so he has seen his share of superintendent evaluations.
He called the new superintendent evaluation system, which was fully implemented this year, a “joy.”
“I commented to our superintendent that it really made the evaluation process a joy, as opposed to sometimes you kind of search for enough documentation to put into the instrument itself,” he said. “Our superintendent had gone to great lengths to document every standard that we were rating him on, and he provided each board member with a huge notebook that was broken down by standard.”
Brown said as board members went through the new evaluation document, they were able to simply turn to the section that related to each standard the board was evaluating the superintendent on, and all of the documentation was there. “And what made it a joyful process was that you look back and remember things that you had forgotten that had been accomplished, and it really made it a fun, joyful exercise,” he said.
Becky Burgett, a member of KSBA’s training cadre and a former Gallatin County school board member, said boards she worked with found the process made sense once they started it. She said getting away from a numerical rating system in which board members ranked the superintendent’s performance in different areas, may have been the biggest change for most boards.
“It seems like a lot of districts really relied on the 5-4-3-2-1 rankings,” she said. “I do think that once they spend some time looking at the new document and talking about the process, which is what we do in our training, then they get it. And I think they think it makes sense and I think they would agree that it’s more objective; it takes that subjectivity out of it.”
Union County school board Chairwoman Jennifer Buckman said her board previously used a numerical system, but said it was not an in-depth way to look at things.
“This (new system) does take a whole lot more time and thought, but once you go through it, it comes easier to you,” she said. “The other one, I felt like it didn’t give you as much conversation, and things to look at. We didn’t have near as many standards and indicators.”
And conversation is the point, Burgett said.
“I encourage them that this is not a one-and-done, so don’t forget this until April or May because that is not the way this is supposed to work and this is not how you are going to get better as a team,” she said. “I suggested that boards keep it on their agendas, if not every month, then every other month just to talk about the process and look at their policy … take a few minutes out of your meeting and review your process and make sure everyone is aligned on what data points you’re looking at.”
She said there was some pushback from some board members asking why they had to do this or why they were required by the state Department of Education to use this specific instrument, but said most quickly got on board.
“And there have been a few districts that I’ve been very impressed with that more often than not were already doing these things,” Burgett said. “This is very much a data and evidence-based process.”
While the process has been mostly smooth, the instrument itself and the implementation of the system do have a few problems.
Brown said the document is wordy and cumbersome in some ways.
“I had commented a time or two over the last year or so to (Chief of Staff) Dr. Tommy Floyd at KDE about the instrument and I still feel that it is a little wordy and perhaps the language could be a little better written, keeping in mind that the average board member across the state doesn’t speak in education jargon on a daily basis,” he said. “But beyond that, I think the instrument is pretty good.”
Kerri Schelling, KSBA’s director of Board Team Development, said while boards have done a thorough job of evaluating their superintendents using the new document, she is concerned by the number being rated “exemplary ” – and that’s not because superintendents aren’t doing a good job.
“I think some boards are losing sight of the fact that this is a growth model and it is designed for continuous improvement,” she said. “Because all of the state’s professional growth and effectiveness systems are built on the premise that even highly trained professionals should strive to enhance and refine their skills, a school board, while well meaning, might be sending the message that the superintendent is doing everything as well as he or she possibly could and has no opportunity to become better.”
She said it is human nature to want to rank someone highly, especially if they have a good relationship.
“When I do the training, I tell them that ‘accomplished’ is really what you are shooting for,” Schelling said. “If you are accomplished in your job, you are doing everything you were hired to do and you are doing it very well. ‘Exemplary’ is really that rarified air that has synonyms like ‘ideal’ and ‘flawless,’ and says you set the standard for all others. But it could just come down to semantics, because we tend to use the word ‘exemplary’ to mean ‘very, very good, as opposed to what it actually means. It means you can’t do something much better than you already are, and I would argue that as good as the best superintendent in the state is, there is probably something that he or she would like to do even better.”— Funds are still available through the end of the year to provide free training to school boards on this topic. Contact Jean Crowley at email@example.com or at 800-372-2962, ext. 1103, for more information.
For additional information about the superintendent evaluation process, click here.