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How I Handled...

Evaluating Our
Superintendent's Performance

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Our superintendent's contract is up for renewal, and school board members have decided to solicit input from principals about the super's leadership abilities and policies. How will I respond? What will I say? I have a course of action I plan to stick to.

The Problem:

Our district superintendent's contract is up for renewal. School board members have decided to solicit feedback regarding the superintendent's rehire. They will travel to schools in the district to solicit opinions from the principals of those schools. What will I say?

The Solution:

What a sticky situation to be in! When I first learned that board members would be showing up on my doorstep for input on our superintendent's performance, I recalled a piece of advice a wonderful principal once gave me concerning school board members. "Do not call them for favors, or for any reason other than to invite them to student/parent activities." That advice has worked well for me all these years, but it didn't cover this particular twist: Now the board was coming to me!

I knew in advance what the board members would ask. They let the principals know that they wanted to discuss what we thought of the superintendent's ability to lead. They also wanted to know our opinions about specific areas of his performance, how we feel about the central office's roll in curriculum, special education, maintenance, discipline, and more. What do I say? What if the superintendent ends up being replaced? What if his contract is renewed? How will my remarks -- when (not if) they are repeated -- influence him?

I decided the best tack was to be very truthful and factual. I would -- in all cases -- attempt to stay away from emotional responses. If I agreed with something the super did, I simply would state, "I agreed with him when he attacked the low test scores with the staff development day on Balanced Literature." If I disagreed with a decision he made, I would state that in much the same manner -- devoid of emotion: "I disagreed with his idea of using only basal-text instruction because a balanced literacy model seems to work best at my school." The board members might expect, or even hope, that principals will be more emotional and passionate in their responses, but maintaining a professional, unemotional demeanor is my goal. If I start to show emotion, I am afraid I could say something that might be taken the wrong way or something I might regret at a later time.

The Reflection:

The superintendent's contract renewal has not taken place yet, and -- so far -- my remarks haven't gotten me into hot water. The weeks ahead will bring intensified questioning as contract time grows nearer. I plan to continue to respond in the same way I have to date -- factually, honestly, unemotionally. Hopefully, I can maintain that professional approach and stay afloat no matter what the outcome concerning the superintendent's contract.

About the How I Handled... Team of Principal Problem Solvers
The How I Handled... series is intended to be practical resource for all principals and principals-to-be. Each week, members of Education World's How I Handled team share how they solved actual problems relating to school leadership, parent involvement, professional development, and a host of other "principal" responsibilities. Six principals comprise our How I Handled team; two of them are elementary school principals, two work at the middle level, and two are high school principals. Team members remain anonymous; in that way, they can share freely the range of issues/problems they are called on to solve each day.

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