Ask the Staff: Building the board/superintendent relationship through evaluation
by Reatha Owen
The questions for this issue were answered by Reatha Owen, IASB field services director for the Blackhawk, Central Illinois Valley, Corn Belt, and Western divisions.
As trustee for its community, the school board needs to recognize how critical the board/superintendent relationship is to the success of the district’s schools. Having hired the superintendent as its chief executive officer, the board delegates authority to the superintendent to operate the district and provide leadership to staff. The board has the responsibility to monitor performance. Having an effective superintendent evaluation process allows the board to monitor superintendent performance, to ensure the district is making progress towards its goals and is in compliance with written board policy.
Question: Why is superintendent evaluation so critical?
Answer: An effective evaluation process gives the superintendent and board an opportunity to identify professional development opportunities that can help the superintendent improve his or her craft, which ultimately benefits both the superintendent and the district. The evaluation also assists the board in making informed decisions about the superintendent’s contract and compensation. Finally, by law in the State of Illinois, any multi-year contract must include performance goals. The board must evaluate performance towards these goals before a contract may be renewed.
Question: Why do boards sometimes struggle with this part of their work?
Answer: The superintendent evaluation process can seem daunting. First, some board members may feel intimidated in assessing the performance of a trained, professional educator, who often has advanced degrees and considerable experience. Others may be afraid of conflict – between the board and superintendent or among board members themselves. Some may feel that their process doesn’t allow for open and honest communication. Apprehension about this work usually is a sign that the board’s evaluation process has not been fully developed. Once the necessary “up-front” work is completed, evaluation becomes a routine part of the board’s annual planning cycle.
Question: What is IASB’s recommended approach to this work?
Answer: There are several components to a successful evaluation process.
First, the board and superintendent must agree on expectations. The board may already have articulated these expectations in various documents, including the superintendent contract, job description, district goals, board policy, and school improvement plans. Additionally, the board may wish to incorporate professional standards into its evaluation.
An effective superintendent evaluation process includes a set of written expectations for the district, articulated in written district goals. When a board has engaged in a thoughtful goal-setting process for the district, then the question can be asked, “What can we, as a board, expect of our superintendent over the next 12 months to help the district fulfill these goals?” A board that does not have up-to-date and relevant goals will want to undertake this important work of articulating district expectations.
Next, the board and superintendent need to agree on what data or evidence will be used to determine what success looks like. For the process to be fair, the superintendent and board must discuss and agree on what the board will reasonably expect of the superintendent in terms of results. Nothing will erode the board/superintendent relationship more quickly than the board evaluating on something the superintendent had no idea he or she was being held accountable for.
Finally, the board needs to put its expectations in writing and develop an evaluation instrument. Crafting the language to express expectation and goals should be a collaborative process, owned by the full board and superintendent. While it is tempting to “borrow” an instrument from another district or source, a board needs to view the superintendent evaluation as part of its overall district planning process. Using a template or sample from another source is perfectly acceptable; however, the content should be tailored to meet the unique needs of the district.
Question: Can IASB assist a board in this work?
Answer: Your IASB field services director is available to assist the board in all aspects of this important work. Based on the board’s needs and resources, we can help you determine the best format for your particular district. For more information, or to schedule a workshop, please contact your field services director.
This article provides a brief overview of the superintendent evaluation process. To learn more, download the guide “The Superintendent Evaluation Process” at www.iasb.com/training/superintendent-evaluation-process.pdf .
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