17 Nov 2016

Counterproductive Superintendent Evaluations

Counterproductive Superintendent Evaluations

I recently read Doug Reeves’ book From Leading to Succeeding  and he provided a very impactful yet fictitious example of a couple conducting a summative marriage evaluation.    In that scenario he depicts a couple at a restaurant celebrating their anniversary.  The story unfolds as the couple begins by conducting a summative marriage evaluation for the past year.  The approach is very clinical and is a laundry list of shortcomings.  This fictitious example transcends to non-fiction every year for school superintendents. Traditional models produce counterproductive superintendent evaluations because they are very impersonal, post facto and more of a laundry list of the good, bad and ugly.  Worst of all, they do not provide the ability to immediately rectify straying off course or to recognize desired practices to repeat.

In a relationship as personal, interconnected, codependent and important as a marriage one should never conduct a single summative evaluation.  Rather, the entire year is filled with progress monitoring.  The stakes and importance of this relationship are too high to be disingenuous with a single summative evaluation.  If  a spouse screws up they want to know immediately so they can make the necessary corrections- and buy flowers!  If they do something that pleases their spouse they would want to know that immediately to repeat the desired behaviors.

As a superintendent of 9 years I experienced 9 annual summative evaluations very similar to the fictitious anniversary example.  While those ritualistic experiences ran the gamut from congenial to convoluted, they all had one thing in common- they did a great disservice to the importance of the relationship between my role as the superintendent and the Board of Education.  They felt artificial, laden with perceptional data that lacked substantiated merit. Each annual summative evaluation left me less inspired that the process was a value add to my professional growth.

In most, but not all, cases the shortcomings of the evaluation processes were not the fault of the individual board members.  I am happy to say that I walked away from most of them feeling warm and fuzzy but not quite knowing what exactly would help me grow as a professional.  Thankfully, most of the board members I worked with were good hearted servant leaders with honest and transparent intentions but woefully ill equipped to evaluate the technical aspect of a school superintendent.    Let’s face it, board of education members are elected with little to no knowledge or experience in  what the superintendent/CEO of a school district does or should do.   Because of this they resort to information provided to them by the superintendent, neighbors, spouses, personal impressions, axes to grind and covert political allegiances.   In all of these cases, the data provided to them or produced by them is leading.

At a time when school districts are moving from being measured solely by high stakes tests towards a growth model measurement, the superintendent evaluations are not following suit.  The role of a superintendent, much like that of a school, is way too complex to be measured by a single measurement.  Rather, just like being married, there should be continuous progress monitoring of growth that not only capitalizes on reinforcing desired behaviors but also to quickly rectifying undesirable behaviors.

Schools are measured by technically trained experts within the industry but the superintendent of the district is not.  Would you ask a neighbor to evaluate you marriage?   Why then do communities ask neighbors to evaluate their schools’ superintendent.   Imagine you were just elected to serve on your local school board, would you feel prepared and equipped with the technical knowledge to evaluate your school superintendent?  The technical aspects of the superintendent’s job performance should be vetted by people with the expertise to do so and not lay people.

Performance evaluations of superintends must be rooted in a growth model mindset narrowed to a focus on the top 2-3 most priority initiatives in the school district.  There must be continual progress monitoring that is not rooted in developing a list of shortcomings rather, is focused on providing immediate feedback for reflection and correction.   Above all- performance evaluations must be approached with the same level of care, dedication, devotion and honesty as one would expect in a marriage.

Traditional superintendent evaluations are counterproductive in most school districts across the country currently and must change.


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