Board-Savvy Superintendent

No Reason to Fear an Online Evaluation
By DARCI D'ERCOLE-MCGINN/School Administrator, September 2018

AS A SUPERINTENDENT, you probably are doing more work online every year. Are you ready to have your annual evaluation done online, too?

There are several reasons your school board might find it appealing to conduct your performance review online. You might, too.

» It’s focused.
Online evaluations (such as the one being developed by my organization, the New York State School Boards Association) have a standards-and-goals format. The evaluation instrument presumes that agreed-upon annual goals are SMART — specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound.

That should be good news for most action-oriented superintendents. SMART goals maintain a clear measure of how much progress has been made on district priorities.

» It can be easier for board members, especially the board president.
Who wants to track down paper evaluations or calculate numeric rating scores? With online evaluations, numeric rating scores are all calculated automatically, with auto-reminders sent to each board member. Each board member is held accountable to participate and get the job done. That makes it much easier to expedite the process, according to Sonia Mesika, vice president of the school board in Brewster, N.Y., which used an online program for the first time in 2017.

» It arms board members with good information.
A big plus of an online system is that it is organized and provides an emotion-free process for collating and aggregating rating scores and comments. Before meeting, board members can review each other’s evaluation comments online. That encourages board members to focus on common perceptions. An outlier comment or minority view is less likely to gain undue attention.

» It can be easier for you.
Most superintendents are asked, reasonably, to document their performance by building a portfolio of evidence. For most superintendents, much of that material is in electronic form. In an online evaluation system, the superintendent has the ability to upload relevant evidence directly to the area of his or her responsibilities. It also sets up for the board and superintendent an informed mid-year conversation that supports real-time knowledge of progress and, in some cases, makes the case for important course corrections.

» It’s available as a tool year-round.
The ability to work in a live online system that is available 24/7 all year long makes the evaluation more robust and effective, says Patrick McGrath, superintendent of the Burnt Hills–Ballston Lake Central School District, which has used online evaluations for the past two years.

You can review goals and document achievements as they occur.

» It’s a good investment.
The expense of purchasing an instrument may be tough to justify in a year when there is a lot of cost-cutting going on. But it’s possible to be penny-wise and pound-foolish. Online evaluations are common for other professionals, so why wouldn’t we do the same for a role as important as superintendent?

Honest Dealings
Despite these virtues, an online evaluation is not a panacea for frustrations that superintendents experience when they are evaluated. It is unlikely you’ll have an opportunity to modify the instrument.

It’s important for superintendents to talk with their boards about the evaluation process and have a common understanding of the evaluation criteria. While a good board-superintendent relationship can be enhanced by an online evaluation system, a bad superintendent-board relationship will not be fixed by it.

The ultimate goal is a rich, ongoing conversation between you and your board so that opportunities for improvement can be identified and discussed. The honesty of the conversation is more important than the format. The focus always should be on how, as a team, you and your board can improve your school district and serve the interests of all stakeholders.
DARCI D’ERCOLE-MCGINN is director of leadership development at the New York State School Boards Association in Latham, N.Y.