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ASK THE STAFF

September/October 2014

Boards carry responsibility for superintendent evaluation
by Laurel DiPrima

The questions for this issue were answered by Laurel DiPrima, former IASB field services director for the Kishwaukee, Northwest and Starved Rock divisions, who has now retired. Further inquiries can be directed to Reatha Owen, IASB Field Services Director.

The IASB field services department recently released a new publication, “The Superintendent Evaluation Process: Strengthening the Board-Superintendent Relationship.”

Question: What was the impetus to develop this new publication?

Answer: Superintendent evaluation is a key responsibility of a school board. As trustee for its community, a board needs to recognize how critical the board/superintendent relationship is to the ultimate success of its district’s schools. Principle 3 of the Foundational Principles of Effective Governance states that the board employs and evaluates one person – the superintendent – and holds that person accountable for district performance and compliance with written board policy. Having hired the superintendent as its chief executive officer, the board delegates authority to him or her to operate the district and provide leadership to staff. The board then has the responsibility to monitor performance, to ensure the district is making progress towards its goals and is in compliance with written board policy. The superintendent evaluation process is the most visible and arguably the most important monitoring work in which the board can engage.

Question: Why is superintendent evaluation so critical?

Answer: In addition to ensuring accountability, 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 “up-front” work is completed, evaluation becomes a routine part of the board’s annual planning cycle.

Question: What is IASB’s 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.

District goals constitute a significant piece of the board’s expectations. A board that has not recently engaged in goal-setting will want to undertake this work. If the board has developed broad goals, then superintendent goals and targets will need to be developed that are appropriate for the evaluation instrument.

Next, the board and superintendent also need to agree on what measurements will be used to determine whether a particular goal has been met, and whether the administration is in compliance with written board policy. A measure may be qualitative or quantitative. Performance should be based on enough data and informed opinion to avoid personal biases and “gut feelings.”

Finally, the board needs to put its expectations in writing into an evaluation instrument. While it is tempting to “borrow” an instrument form another district or source, a board that views the superintendent evaluation as part of the overall district planning process recognizes the need to develop an instrument based on its own unique needs. Using a template or sample from another source is perfectly acceptable; however, the content will be unique to each district.

For more information, download the publication “The Superintendent Evaluation Process: Strengthening the Board-Superintendent Relationship” at www.iasb.com/training/freepubs.cfm.

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