Friday, March 5, 2010

Superintendent Evaluations – Transparency vs. Effectiveness

Early in my tenure in Kentucky, I was informed about an Attorney General’s opinion (08 OMD 165) that superintendent evaluations were required to be conducted in public. I asked –“You mean they are required to report the outcome of the evaluation in public?” I was told – “No, the actual evaluation must be conducted in public.”

I can tell you that this was a new one on me. Having been in education for 37 years, I certainly know that evaluations are very important and that privacy and confidentiality are crucial in the process of evaluation. Having served as a superintendent in two districts for more than 12 years, I have spent many mid-year and end-of-year evaluations having excellent discussions with school board members about personnel matters and other components of superintendent evaluation. The key to the evaluation was always a unified summative report that listed the positive elements of the evaluation and the areas for improvement.

While I am very supportive of transparency in conducting the public’s business, I believe that neither a school board nor a superintendent could possibly engage in a full and informative discussion of the components of an evaluation system during an open meeting. The system that I have seen work best includes specific goals and performance targets for the superintendent heavily focused on student learning results, financial management and other key business processes in the school district. Also, each board member provides feedback on key performance expectations to the chair of the board, who then compiles the results for a one-on-one preview with the superintendent.

Then, the board meets with the superintendent in closed session to review the results of the feedback and clarify any questions or concerns. The board prioritizes improvement areas for the superintendent and then both agree on performance targets for the coming year. At the end of the meeting, the board develops a summative statement of the evaluation to include strengths and areas for improvement, along with performance targets for the coming year.

The Kentucky School Boards Association and the Kentucky Association of School Superintendents have excellent models and tools for superintendent evaluation, and Kentucky’s Race to the Top application made a commitment to ensure that all 174 superintendents and school boards would utilize high-quality superintendent and school board evaluations.

While the public certainly has a right to know the results of the superintendent evaluation, the process described above will lead to a richer and more productive evaluation than attempting to conduct the full evaluation in public. Certainly, no one would expect a teacher’s evaluation or a principal’s evaluation to be conducted in public, and I find it very difficult to have a different standard for the superintendent.

The Senate Education Committee took a very important step this week in this matter, and Senate Bill 178, sponsored by Sen. David Givens, gained unanimous and bipartisan support. I hope the full Senate and the House will act to correct this situation prior to the end-of-year evaluations of superintendents.


  1. Why can't the board and Superintendent have an honest open discussion about his/her evaluation? Isn't that what the board was elected to do, be honest and open? Anyone afraid to state their position in open session should not run for public office.

    The pressure to close the superintendent evaluation process seems to clearly state a desire to censor the information available to the public. Please do not compare the evaluation of rank and file employees who do not manage multi-million dollar budgets to that of the Superintendents. Please keep in mind that the Superintendent is the ONLY school district employee evaluated by an elected board.

    Since the two court rulings affirming 08 OMD 165 and 09 OMD 115, there have been newspaper articles reporting effective open Superintendent evaluations. But this isn't just about superintendents. It's also about transparency in how the board carries out its duties. The final summative report does not define the individual performance of each board member. The public needs to observe the actual process of this most important duty in order to make informed decisions at the polls.

    If SB 178 passes, it gives a special status to Superintendents above any other top public official such as public University Presidents, who will continue to be evaluated in open session. What sets Superintendents apart so that they deserve this preferential treatment?

    The current law allows the board to legally go into closed session to discuss anything personal in nature. It allows the board to legally go into closed session to discuss discipline or dismissal. This is sufficient protection for the Superintendent.

  2. Dr. Holliday talked about the key as being the unified summative report that the board releases after the evaluation. If this is an true reflection of the board's evaluation, why shouldn't the public be allowed to see how the board and each individual board member developed this report?

    Dr. Holliday mentioned how the KSBA and KASS had have excellent evaluation models. Is there any reason that they can not be used in public? He mentioned that in the Race To The Top application that a committment was made that we would use a high quality evaluation. Wouldn't it add to this commitment if Kentucky also said that they would be open and hold the evaluations in front of the public.