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Board-Savvy Superintendent             Page 10

Balancing Performance Goals

BY NICHOLAS D. CARUSO JR.

 Caruso

 Nick Caruso

I knew a superintendent whose job was always hanging by a thread. This shouldn’t have been the case. Under his watch, student achievement was improving steadily. His talent for keeping the community well-informed made it possible for the town to pass a referendum for a new high school on the first try.

You would think this superintendent would be secure in his job. Instead, his contract typically was extended by a 5-4 vote of the school board.

Part of the reason for his difficulties was a lack of clarity around his performance goals among the leadership team. The primary method of evaluation in the district was a scorecard consisting mostly of items that could be measured subjectively. It focused almost exclusively on management skills, which is a common way for boards to evaluate their superintendent.

Strong communication, budget management and leadership skills are important qualities for any superintendent, but in this case there was no consensus on goals for the district or the superintendent. What goals they had related to operational issues, not student achievement. This caused a disconnect between members of the board of education and the superintendent. If you asked board members what they expected from their superintendent (or the district, for that matter), each would tell you something different.

Achievement First
In the past, teachers, administrators and superintendents were often assessed by how they, not their students, performed. But that is changing rapidly. School districts around the country are refocusing their attention on student data rather than task completion to measure success. They’re asking, “Are our students improving?”

Of course, if the superintendent is not managing the school district properly, goals won’t matter. Superintendent evaluation must continue to cover a review of management skills alongside achievement goals for the district. This, however, is only half the battle.

I recommend that a superintendent’s evaluation should focus on how well the district is doing on student achievement. The focus should not be solely on test scores, but they can’t be ignored. Other ways should define how students are improving aside from how they measure on state tests. These areas should be identified, targets should be set and a reporting structure should be agreed upon by both the board and the superintendent.

A superintendent’s goals may include developing a more transparent budget process or restructuring professional development. These are tangible goals that can be assessed based on how and whether they are accomplished. These are goals that should be very important to a superintendent’s evaluation.

As these goals are established, their relevance to student learning should be considered. Learning is at the crux of our work and if our goals don’t connect to it, we need to further examine the goal-setting process and the goals themselves.

Setting Expectations
In collaboration with the superintendent and his or her staff, the school board should establish from two to four distinct district goals for student expectations. Available data should guide and inform such expectations. These district goals should be not just adopted by the board, but owned by them.

The superintendent must develop his or her own goals to support the district goals. Action plans and timelines should reflect not just the completion of tasks, but plans for how the school board will be apprised of student success.

Finally, there needs to be a mutually agreed upon articulation of what success looks like so that no surprises appear when the evaluation process starts. The two sides must continuously review progress on these goals and not wait for a full year to go by. The reason we have performance goals is to ensure success of our children, not to catch the CEO in a compromising position. Waiting a year to assess progress is not fair to the students, the board or the superintendent.

Nick Caruso is senior staff associate for field service and coordinator of technology with the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education in Wethersfield, Conn. E-mail: ncaruso@cabe.org. Twitter: @gibsonjunkie

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