Effective evaluations add value to your school system
For some boards and districts, the superintendent evaluation can be a tedious, sometimes confusing annual process. It may even be viewed as inefficient and adding little value. But for those who get it right, evaluations can keep everyone aligned on the district’s strategic goals, increase trust and communication, and ultimately improve the education experience.
“It’s about your vision, your goals, and your district making a difference in teaching and learning,” said Harry Heiligenthal, leadership development director at the Iowa Association of School Boards (IASB), and co-leader of IASB’s Lighthouse Projects and Study. Heiligenthal and two members of the Carroll Community Schools’ governance team—Board President Jen Munson and Superintendent Rob Cordes—recently joined us for a webinar on how boards and superintendents can conduct superintendent evaluations that add value to the entire school system.
Top Tips for Better Superintendent Evaluations
1. Know your requirements.
The first step to more meaningful evaluations is to understand what your state and district require when it comes to superintendent evaluations, said Heiligenthal. If you’re not sure what those requirements are, read up on your state’s laws, he advised. Then have meaningful discussions with the entire board in the first two to three months of the fiscal year around your district policy for evaluations.
“Whether it’s required by law or not, superintendent evaluation is certainly an effective practice,” noted Heiligenthal.
2. Brush up on your policies.
At this point, you’re not reviewing policy to change it, explained Heiligenthal, but rather making sure that any new board members understand the policy, while serving as a refresher for existing members.
“This is not a long deal,” he said. “For some boards, it’s a five- or 10-minute discussion.”
3. Review the blank evaluation form.
“In our work with boards in Iowa, we find there’s a big need to revisit and familiarize the whole team with a blank copy of the evaluation instrument,” said Heiligenthal. When the team reviews the form, they might identify areas they don’t understand, or realize that they’ve not met some of the key requirements, such as setting superintendent goals.
Heiligenthal recommends that boards and superintendents review the form at least eight to 10 months prior to the evaluation to ensure everyone is clear about the process before it begins.
4. Tie superintendent goals to district priorities.
Heiligenthal noted that school systems should identify two or three indicators of progress for each evaluation standard at the beginning of the year, guided by their district goals, and explain those measures in easy-to-understand terms.
“Your state may have mandated standards, you may have expectations that your board and superintendent set that are unique to your district, or you may be heavily relying on the superintendent’s job description,” he said. “Whatever it is you use in relation to those expectations, it’s important to talk those through so everyone understands what those expectations mean.”
5. Make the evaluation process ongoing.
Rather than conducting an end-of-the-year summary evaluation, Heiligenthal recommends frequent, shorter reviews, including a one-page, mid-year performance review. With the superintendent’s goals in front of them, board members take a few minutes to provide input around strengths and progress, areas for growth, and adjustments for roadblocks, including ways to get around them.
“If a board team uses a tool like this, has a short 20- to 30-minute maximum conversation with the superintendent a few times a year, keeps the key notes on this form, and then fills out the form during the end-of-year summary evaluation, the evaluation becomes a more manageable tool and process, and board members don’t have to rely just on memory,” said Heiligenthal.
Ongoing communication and feedback also serve to make the entire process more meaningful and valuable for everyone involved, he added.
“That’s what this process should be about—something meaningful that both the board and superintendent can take away from the process and use in moving forward.”