Focus

A Client-Based System for Superintendent Evaluations

BOARD RELATIONS by DON SENTI and LINDA H. SMITH


Superintendent evaluations usually include lofty goals such as fostering good board/superintendent working relationships, determining if a district is moving in the direction a board expects and identifying areas of strength and areas for improvement.

What is tougher, and often missing, is a clearly articulated evaluation system that supports these goals and facilitates their achievement.

In our school system, we implemented a client-based superintendent evaluation system in 1996. This system is multifaceted, ongoing, thought-provoking and focused on growth and recognition. Data collection and dialogue are at its core. Collaborative goal setting and improved administrative effectiveness are its objectives.


A 4-Step Process
The evaluation process has four key steps that take place over a 12-month period each year: data gathering, study session, collaborative goal setting and mid-year review.

  • Step No. 1: Data Gathering

    This involves collecting feedback on the superintendent's performance from key client groups in the district, including board members, teachers, administrators, support staff, community leaders and parents. Surveys are tailored to each client group and are based on the "AASA Standards for the Superintendency."

  • Step No. 2: Study Session

    Planned by the superintendent, this session takes place at a board/superintendent retreat. The purpose is to give the board a chance to learn about the accomplishments of the superintendent and district over the course of the year. The superintendent provides the board with a comprehensive report. This report includes a resume update, district goals update, state of the district (strengths, weaknesses, emerging issues), personal/professional goals update, an interpretation of client survey data, a self-evaluation (strengths, areas to improve) and suggested new personal/professional goals.

    During the retreat, each board member completes a retreat feedback form that asks for reactions to the information covered by the superintendent during the study session.

  • Step No. 3: Collaborative Goal Setting

    In an executive session, the board reviews comments on the retreat feedback forms and discusses the results of client surveys. Board members try to understand each other's perspectives on information shared during the retreat, to clarify differences and perhaps to modify individual assessments based on the discussion. The superintendent's recommended personal/professional goals for the year are reviewed and additional goals are considered.

    The board president then prepares a written evaluation report for the superintendent. Shortly thereafter the superintendent responds in writing to the annual evaluation report and completes the personal/professional goals for the year. Once these goals are formally approved by the board, the superintendent prepares action plans for their implementation.

  • Step No. 4: Mid-Year Review

    A mid-year review helps update the board on progress toward achieving annual goals and provides feedback to the superintendent on how this progress is viewed by the board. Discussion about progress may result in midcourse corrections. That is, recommendations may emerge for modifying priorities, pace or strategies that were adopted to achieve various goals.
  • This involves collecting feedback on the superintendent's performance from key client groups in the district, including board members, teachers, administrators, support staff, community leaders and parents. Surveys are tailored to each client group and are based on the "AASA Standards for the Superintendency."Planned by the superintendent, this session takes place at a board/superintendent retreat. The purpose is to give the board a chance to learn about the accomplishments of the superintendent and district over the course of the year. The superintendent provides the board with a comprehensive report. This report includes a resume update, district goals update, state of the district (strengths, weaknesses, emerging issues), personal/professional goals update, an interpretation of client survey data, a self-evaluation (strengths, areas to improve) and suggested new personal/professional goals.During the retreat, each board member completes a retreat feedback form that asks for reactions to the information covered by the superintendent during the study session.In an executive session, the board reviews comments on the retreat feedback forms and discusses the results of client surveys. Board members try to understand each other's perspectives on information shared during the retreat, to clarify differences and perhaps to modify individual assessments based on the discussion. The superintendent's recommended personal/professional goals for the year are reviewed and additional goals are considered.The board president then prepares a written evaluation report for the superintendent. Shortly thereafter the superintendent responds in writing to the annual evaluation report and completes the personal/professional goals for the year. Once these goals are formally approved by the board, the superintendent prepares action plans for their implementation. A mid-year review helps update the board on progress toward achieving annual goals and provides feedback to the superintendent on how this progress is viewed by the board. Discussion about progress may result in midcourse corrections. That is, recommendations may emerge for modifying priorities, pace or strategies that were adopted to achieve various goals.

    Productive Payoffs
    This annual evaluation system is thorough and far more intense than most evaluations. Why, then, would a superintendent want to participate in such a process?

    If done properly and cooperatively, a client-based system is in the superintendent's best interest for two very pragmatic reasons-job security and role modeling.

    The process, including the client surveys, is ideally developed during a time of positive feelings, preferably early in the superintendent's tenure in the district. The process is designed to help the superintendent grow professionally and to identify problems or perceived problems before they get out of hand.

    Far too often an evaluation system is thrown together in haste after problems have developed. Such an approach usually attempts to substantiate, after the fact, what the board already has decided.

    The most powerful reason to adopt a client-based evaluation system is that following a process helps prevent major problems from occurring in the first place. With the successful completion of two or three of these comprehensive evaluations, a suddenly hostile board would have great difficulty building a case for dismissal. The client surveys make the superintendent's case particularly strong because her or his performance has been judged by many more people than the six or seven members of a typical board.

    The client surveys also have great public relations value among staff and community members. Even people who do not return the surveys think highly of the superintendent for having the courage to request such feedback. As the district's lead learner, what better way to model an openness to growth? Participating in such a process sets a powerful example for other district administrators and teachers to consider using client-based evaluations. It is hard to resist if the boss does it.

    Evaluating the superintendent is among the most important responsibilities of the board of education. After years of working with other systems, we think we finally got it right.

    Don Senti is superintendent, School District of Clayton, 7530 Maryland Ave., Clayton, Mo. 63105-3881. E-mail: community-relations@clayton.k12.mo.us. Linda Smith is president of the board of education in Clayton, Mo.