Spotlight

A Superintendent’s Online Evaluation Tool

by Donald F. Stewart

The relationship between a superintendent and the school board is unique. When that relationship is most effective the two entities function as a focused team.

While the relationship is rooted in partnership and shared goals, it is a foolish superintendent who forgets that the collective board is his or her boss. It is this unique twofold relationship that makes it vitally important that both partners have a clear understanding of the evaluation process.

The nine-member board of the Penn Manor School District recognizes that its most significant responsibility is to evaluate the effectiveness of the superintendent, particularly in regards to the development and achievement of goals approved by the board. To collect timely and confidential input on my performance toward the goals, we used a 360-degree evaluation tool, through SurveyMonkey.com, to create an online evaluation process. We first used it in spring 2005.

Essential Questions
Developing the instrument was a cooperative effort. I worked with a subcommittee of the school board. We first reviewed sample 360-degree evaluation instruments and then created our own draft to be examined by the full board and members of the administrative team.

While the purpose was to devise a sound evaluation instrument, the board members and I found the discussions leading to that end extremely valuable in themselves. The process forced us to confront essential questions: How do we define excellent leadership in Penn Manor? What exactly should the school board expect from the superintendent?

Board members acknowledged that past superintendent evaluations had reflected only the conclusions board members had formed, based mostly on impressions from formal board meetings and informal information gathering. The new online 360-degree instrument generated real data that could be tabulated, categorized and evaluated for validity and importance.

The basis of Penn Manor’s online superintendent evaluation is a series of statements that ask constituents to rate the superintendent’s performance. The respondents can choose among these ratings: “Exceeds Expectations,” “Meets Expectations,” “Needs Improvement” or “Unsatisfactory.” A fifth choice, “Not Applicable,” is also available. Respondents are given opportunities to elaborate with their own written comments. For constituents who do not have computer access, paper versions of the evaluation are available.

The statements about how individuals perceive my performance are grouped into four sets. One set is oriented to the board. A second set is directed toward employees. A third is oriented toward parents and citizens, and a final set, which is general in nature, can be answered by all interested parties. A custodian or cafeteria worker who logs in using the proper password is directed only to those statement sets that are appropriate to staff members, as well as the general questions.

In addition to the surveys sent to these representative groups, I complete a self-evaluation, which matches the board’s statements.

Multiple Benefits
The four statement sets give each group the opportunity to provide input in areas where the respondent would have experience and expertise. A statement such as “Solves problems effectively and in a timely fashion” would appear on the general list and would solicit opinions from all 360 degrees. A statement such as “Is responsive to board inquiries and requests for information” would be intended for board members.

The use of the online SurveyMonkey. com product brings several advantages to the process. First, it is inexpensive. Penn Manor School District has purchased a $200 SurveyMonkey.com annual license and uses it to conduct the superintend-ent’s survey and perhaps 15 other districtwide surveys.

Secondly, the SurveyMonkey.com instrument easily provides for the aggregation of data across each group. Board members, staff, administrators, parents/community members and the superintendent are each provided with separate passwords. Based on the access code, input is tabulated by category.

Thirdly, the SurveyMonkey.com instrument provides instantaneous data, tabulation and access. The data can be reviewed as it is being collected and data comparisons are simplified.

Of course, this process raises questions about the interpretation of data. What does it mean if staff members rate the superintendent as highly visible, but citizens and parents rate the superintendent low in this area? What does it mean if administrators rate their superintendent high in communication skills, but teachers and other staff members do not?

The disaggregated data, along with opinions that vary by interest group, can lead board members and the superintendent to re-engage in discussions about the proper evaluation of the superintendent. These discussions about process and intent are just as valuable as the data itself.

A final advantage of the SurveyMonkey. com instrument is its easy revision and re-use. On an annual basis, constituents in the Penn Manor School District are given the opportunity to give input on the performance of the superintendent and the district. Every constituent is provided with a confidential platform for communicating with the board. Board members are provided with a format for learning the opinions of constituents from a 360-degree perspective.

Donald Stewart is superintendent of the Penn Manor School District, PO Box 1001, Millersville, PA 17551. E-mail: don.stewart@pennmanor.net