Evaluation – Strengthening the Board and Superintendent Relationship

By Lon Garrison, AASB School Improvement Coordinator

Many boards and superintendents have just completed what seems to be a seasonal occurrence, the superintendent’s evaluation. For some, this is the culmination of a well-planned and executed process that provides a structure for effective communication and reflection. For others, it is a task that is completed last minute and feels like it did not serve the purpose intended; a missed opportunity. And a very few boards and superintendents never get to it at all, truly a dereliction of their responsibilities.

School districts that demonstrate increased student achievement often have a common set of factors that affect the outcomes for student success. A couple of these key factors are most often identified as effective governance and educational leadership. The school board practices good governance by understanding and operating within its role as a policy and oversight body elected from a constituency it serves. The superintendent, a member of this leadership team, is the educational expert working on behalf of the board to implement and administer the policies of the Board and the vision of the community for its students. Successful boards and superintendents utilize an evaluation of their performance as a way to facilitate communication and remain focused on their purpose, student success.

There are two crucial evaluation tools, which should be used to create an opportunity for the board and superintendent to align. These are the annual board self-evaluation and the superintendent performance evaluation.

The annual board self-evaluation is equally important as the superintendent performance evaluation. This is a unique opportunity for the district governance team to review and consider their effectiveness as a leadership group. I believe for the board self-evaluation to be a constructive, meaningful experience it must include the following:

  • It should be a facilitated process through an independent facilitator that allows every member equal participation.
  • The Superintendent must be included.
  • Student members should be included in this process as they have a unique and essential voice.
  • The evaluation tool should be oriented around standards, such as the Alaska Association of School Boards, Board Standards or the NSBA Key Work of School Boards.
  • The prompts within each standard should push members to look for evidence supporting their ranking of board performance. Rankings must be supported with comments in order to have productive conversations.
  • The evaluation tool should require an assessment of the board’s work on the strategic plan and annual board priorities.
  • The board should link its ability to work effectively as a governance unit to student achievement and student success within the district.
  • The board should assess whether it has progressed on its own self-improvement goals in the past year.
  • The board and superintendent use this as an opportunity to hold themselves publicly accountable for the work they have to do.

Board self-evaluations that are done well create an environment in which rich, forthright conversations can happen regarding how the board conducts itself, does its work, and how it leads the district. Many times these conversations are challenging to have but are necessary for progress to happen. Board self-evaluation is all about improving communication. It’s about working on relationships and understanding, even with those you may disagree with or not like. Our colleagues at First Alaskans Institute have developed a set of working agreements that many of us here at the Association of Alaska School Boards (AASB) incorporate in our work with boards. Here are a few that I think to resonate particularly well when it comes to self-evaluation:

  • In every chair a leader
  • Listen to understand, speak to be understood
  • Safe space for meaningful conversation
  • Take off your hats

The second piece of the evaluation equation is of course for the superintendent’s performance. At AASB we advocate that this should be a year-round process that culminates with a final summative evaluation. More than anything, this is a communication process and a structure for accountability.

Developing and adopting a summative evaluation tool is critical to this work. AASB urges boards to consider instruments that focus on domains and standards, which are performance-based. Meaning that the superintendent’s job performance is evaluated based on a set of objective measures for which they provide evidence for growth, improvement or implementation. Domains or educational leadership standards for superintendents can be found at the American Association of School Administrators (AASA aasa.org), National Policy Board for Educational Administration (NPBEA – npbea.org).   At the Association of Alaska School Boards (aasb.org) we have performance-based evaluation templates available for districts to review and modify as needed.

Here is a brief list of the elements we urge boards and superintendents to consider for an effective performance-based evaluation process:

  • Board Priorities for the District (superintendent goals) – board & superintendent collaborate on developing both a strategic plan (long-range plan) and yearly board goals for the district. (Fall, winter or spring)
  • Superintendent Leadership Plan (SLP)Using the district strategic plan and the annual board priorities, the superintendent develops a Superintendent Leadership Plan (SLP) and shares it with the board.
  • Superintendent self-evaluation – The superintendent submits a self-evaluation based on the previous year’s SLP and the evaluation instrument to be used. The self-evaluation requires the use of evidence to support the claim of progress or attainment of goals and objectives. It may also include a 360-review by the superintendent of staff and stakeholders.
  • Summative evaluation – The board completes a summative evaluation of the superintendent’s performance by mid-February. (Evaluation tool distributed in late-December or early January to each board member)
  • Mid-point review – The board and superintendent meet at some mid-point several months after summative evaluation (May or June) to go through a mid-year review of progress towards completing the new SLP.

In conclusion, boards and superintendents that work together to maintain open and constructive communication about their roles and responsibilities create a leadership team that has a much greater opportunity of positively affecting student and school outcomes. Effectual governance and school system management is a team effort and requires constant and regular assessment of both the board and its chief executive. This process leads to system and student improvement only if the board and superintendent develop a culture that prioritizes this as a critical element of delivering an excellent education.

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