Even though the job of superintendent of education is one of the most powerful in a school district, many Delaware districts don’t perform annual reviews of theirs.
“Some boards have a formal review, and some don’t,” said Donald Patton, board member of Christina School District. He was a teacher and principal for decades before being elected in May.
“How do you hire someone in your top position, the only person that you hire as a board member, and there’s no evaluation being done until the contract is up?” he asks.
Advocacy group First State Educate is learning that annual performance evaluations for school districts are not common.
“Hundreds of millions of dollars, learning outcomes where they are, and incredibly challenging teaching conditions means the stakes are very high for quality and sustainability.“ says Laurisa Schutt, executive director. “Evaluations can be collaborative learning tools that focus us on our top strategic priorities. Without feedback, it’s hard to know where we are and how we are progressing. “
Two of the primary duties of school boards is selecting and supervising the district superintendent.
“School board members do not have to be experts in any one area, but they need to be able to ask the right questions and acquire information essential to making good choices,” says the National School Board Association website. “Finances, curriculum and testing, strategic planning, state and federal legal requirements, and evaluating the superintendent’s performance are some of the demands on modern school boards.”
Why evaluate the superintendent?
“We’re paying all this money for the superintendent and we give him raises that are not tied into anything, he just gets to raise,” Patton said. “Raises should be tied into success and progress and If it’s not, then why are we automatically rewarding them?”
Christina’s school board is now deciding the best instrument to use to evaluate its superintendent, Dan Shelton.
In late September, Dr. John Marrinuci, executive director of the Delaware School Boards Association, presented a new review process to the board. It had been created by a different district’s board member as part of her doctoral dissertation.
The proposed review would evaluate a superintendent’s ability to meet expectations in vision and goals; teaching and learning; professional responsibilities; superintendent’s goal; and people, systems, and operations.
Naveed Baqir, who serves on the Christina board with Patton, said the agendas of school board members change partly because the members themselves change over the years. That may be one reason many districts don’t have a formal annual review.
Some board members may use annual evaluations to express their frustrations that their own agendas are not thriving, Baqir said.
A board member also may think the superintendent is meeting his or her requirements but wants something more out of the district as a whole.
“That’s where that constant update is required,” he said. “That’s why most school districts, especially when there’s a major change in the board membership, end up in a situation where they want a new evaluation tool.”
Even if a district does have some performance review, its board members won’t always agree on what to include, as the case with Christina.
Some of its members have asked for more specific metrics such as student achievement and test scores, rather than simply checking a “meets expectations” or “does not meet expectations” box.
Baqir points out that if every district had a formal, end-of-the-year superintendent evaluation, they would need to make it unique and reflective of the needs and goals of a particular district.
“We always lobby for flexible evaluation tools for students, because every kid has a different set of capabilities,” Baqir said. “So if you measure every student with the same yardstick, every single aspect of their personality and development, that is not going to be fair to all children.”
The same goes for superintendents, he said.
In Colonial School District, the superintendent is formally reviewed whenever his/her contract is up. Contracts for superintendents are typically one to five years, Menzer said.
However, there is still feedback given to Superintendent Jeff Menzer every year.
“Every December and January, regardless of whether or not you’re due up for renewal as superintendent, the board, during executive session, reviews the superintendent’s performance,” Menzer said, “and they just share feedback and observations with myself in terms of what they expect and want to see moving forward with me as the leader.”
Still, Menzer said the relationship and communication between him and the district school board results in clear expectations.
“I’m the board’s loan employee. I work for them,” Menzer said. “They do not manage and control anything in the district except for me, and when there’s a problem or concern with my performance, they address it with me directly.”
While there isn’t a specific worksheet or checklist in Colonial, Menzer says establishing expectations each year and checking in with the board during Winter has the same outcomes that a formal review would.
“So while it’s not formal between me and the board, it’s expected that I’m performing at a level that they deem appropriate,” he said. “They let me know when there’s something I need to address or handle based on my performance.”
Raised in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, Jarek earned a B.A. in journalism and a B.A. in political science from Temple University in 2021. After running CNN’s Michael Smerconish’s YouTube channel, Jarek became a reporter for the Bucks County Herald before joining Delaware LIVE News.
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