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Chairman's Gavel: Deciding how to evaluate the superintendent

Chairman's Gavel: Deciding how to evaluate the superintendent

By Susan Salter | AASB Director of Leadership Development

Be honest. How does your school board really feel about the superintendent evaluation process? Is it a chore? Or are your board’s evaluation and process things you all agree are vital to your ability to ensure the school system continues to improve?

If the board sees it as something to “get through,” you’re not alone. Creating a solid instrument and a timely, inclusive process takes time. And, often, the board team struggles to reach agreement about what and how much needs to be evaluated each year.

However, when done well, the superintendent evaluation can strengthen not only the school system but also the board-superintendent relationship.

If your board is dissatisfied with its current instrument and/or process, here are a few things to keep in mind as you consider a new one:

  • Performance goals should be the focus. Research show that effective school boards set clear, measurable goals for the system and hold the superintendent accountable for reaching them. For the evaluation process, the board should meet annually with the superintendent to review system performance data. Use these discussions to set reasonable, attainable, measurable goals for the system – goals that will be part of the evaluation itself. It is usually wise to limit these to a handful of key areas in order to avoid overwhelming system staff.

    It also is important that the board work with the superintendent to set them. He or she is, after all, your chief executive officer. He or she will have important ideas about what needs to be done and what can be done given the resources available.

    A couple of side notes: Once the goals are set, the board also must ensure the superintendent and his team have the resources needed to achieve them. Without that critical step, the board cannot reasonably expect goals to be met. Also, the board should consider tying a portion of the superintendent’s compensation to accomplishment of each goal. In Alabama, you cannot give a superintendent a “bonus.” But you may say that the superintendent’s compensation will be increased by a specific dollar amount for the year if the goal is accomplished.

  • Management indicators can be helpful. While the performance goals are the primary part of the evaluation, there are other parts to the superintendent’s performance. Namely, how well is he or she managing staff and ensuring the system is running effectively and efficiently? Indicators in these areas might relate to overseeing the instructional program, student services, facilities or professional development. The board will not see everything a superintendent does to manage these. But it can use the evaluation to set the expectation that the superintendent will provide regular reports to the board on these indicators. Then, when it is time for the evaluation, the board already should have a sense as to the work being done and progress being made.
  • Balance is important. The board should be clear about what kinds of information it will want as documentation of progress. Make sure your evaluation instrument leaves you some flexibility – listing the kinds of documentation that would be acceptable, not creating a laundry list of must-dos. Also remember that the more reports you require, the less time you leave for doing the work itself. Strike a balance that allows you to guide the superintendent about what you want to see without being overly prescriptive.
  • Set the rating scale at the outset. Carefully consider the evaluation instrument's rating scale. Some boards use a 1-5 scale, which allows board members to indicate degrees to which the superintendent has achieved each indicator. Other boards use the standard three-point scale of Exceeds Expectations, Meets Expectations and Needs Improvement. And, still others use the more academic ratings of Exceptional, Proficient and Needs Improvement.

    Regardless of the scale you choose, it is important that you keep the same scale throughout the year’s evaluation cycle. Fairness dictates that any employee know at the outset what he or she will be evaluated on and what the scale will be. If you determine the scale you have chosen is not the best for your situation, change it for the following year’s evaluation.
  • Timing matters. Sometimes a school board loses sight of the evaluation timeline and fails to set the evaluation criteria until midway through the year. If that happens to your board, do not rush to complete the process by an arbitrary deadline. Better to delay the evaluation than unfairly expect your superintendent to meet a year’s worth of goals in three months or even six months.

AASB has developed, as a member benefit, free superintendent evaluation instruments that can be maximized by our for-fee service that includes training on how to effectively evaluate a superintendent and set meaningful and measurable performance goals. To learn more, contact us

Originally published July 2012

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