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July/August 2016

Boards, superintendents should both insist on evaluations
by Patrick Rice

Patrick Rice is IASB field services director for Egyptian, Illini, Shawnee, and Wabash Valley divisions.

Ideally, the school board should annually evaluate its superintendent for four primary reasons:

  • Ensuring district goals are being accomplished;
  • Enhancing board-superintendent relationships;
  • Investing in superintendent professional development; and
  • Fulfilling contractual and compensation purposes.

The school board empowers the superintendent, as the chief executive officer of the district, to manage the day-to-day operations of the district and to pursue district ends (mission, vision, and goals) on its behalf. The superintendent evaluation process is the most visible and arguably the most important work the board can engage in to ensure accountability and better relations with its chief executive officer.

Because superintendent evaluations enhances board/superintendent relationships and decreases superintendent turnover, the superintendent and school board should both insist on conducting superintendent evaluations.

If evaluations are advantageous, why do some school boards and superintendents dread the process? This is a strange anomaly given that if evaluations are conducted correctly, the payoffs are substantial for both the board and the superintendent. The trepidation is possibly some board members are not trained in how to effectively evaluate the superintendent. Other board members find it challenging to properly assess performance because their observations and primary interactions are limited to board meetings, as compared to observing him/her in other job capacities, according to António L. Borba in “The Superintendent’s Evaluation: Bridging the Gap from Theory to Practice.”

Some superintendents may be reluctant to engage in evaluations for various reasons. A common denominator is not being satisfied with the process. According to a 2013 IASB survey, when superintendents were asked if their board needed a better way to evaluate the superintendent, 43 percent agreed or completely agreed. Lack of trust on the governance team is another key reason why some superintendents are not comfortable in having the board evaluate their performance.

Superintendents should welcome evaluations because they provide clarity regarding the board’s key expectations, even if there are changes on the governance team. No one would like to work for several bosses; insisting on superintendent evaluations ensures the board speaks with one voice by identifying key goal areas that the superintendent is accountable for. Understanding job expectations improves the tenure of superintendents within a district. And a good evaluation tool allows the superintendent to provide evidence towards implementing processes to achieve district goals. More importantly, professionals need access to ongoing feedback regarding perceived strengths, weaknesses, and areas in which they can improve.

Superintendent evaluations also allow the board to govern more effectively by having a mechanism in place to ensure compliance and the monitoring of district ends. Since a major duty of the school board is to clarify the district’s purpose by establishing and monitoring district ends, the evaluation process provides the board with a yardstick with which to measure the district’s success. Because members of the board may not have the expertise in how to formulate a superintendent evaluation instrument, the board should consider working with their state association. Such work is helpful in identifying prerequisites prior to the board evaluating its superintendent. Prerequisites may include board training on roles and duties and the establishment of district goals prior to the evaluation of the superintendent.

Superintendent evaluations can also strengthen the board/superintendent relationship. As the employer, the school board’s job is to ensure a safe work environment for its employees. Evaluations can unearth issues of role-confusion in carrying out district goals and enhance the relationship by offering the superintendent needed support, which might include additional resources, to ensure the superintendent’s success in meeting district ends. Because a good superintendent evaluation process is comprised of formative and summative evaluations, there is little to no chance board members and/or the superintendent will be caught off guard – which can result in superintendent turnover – regarding performance areas and other expectations.

There are as many evaluation models as there are flavors of ice cream. Some are effective and some are not. Governance teams should consider these guiding principles in their evaluation instrument:

  • The evaluation should be viewed as a growth process for both the superintendent and the board.
  • Evaluation instruments should be used constructively and not used with a “gotcha” type of attitude.
  • A good evaluation should show alignment between district goals and the superintendent evaluation instrument.
  • Evaluation instruments include one or more of the following areas: contractual language, job description, district ends, school board policies, and professional standards such as ISLLC or AASA.
  • The evaluation should provide clarity concerning expectations, goals, indicators, instrument, and the rating process.

The evaluation process is essential to the foundation of a good working relationship between the board and the superintendent. Boards and superintendents who have taken the time to develop a mutually agreed upon evaluation will not only strengthen the governance team, but more importantly improve the district’s success in its mission of ensuring student success.

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