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Community Evaluates Superintendent Online

Opening oneself up to an evaluation by the community takes some nerve, but Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools superintendent Dr. Pedro Garcia was up for it. The responses are leading to changes in how he communicates with the community. Included: A link to the online evaluation form.

Last year, Metropolitan Nashville (Tennessee) Public Schools' superintendent Dr. Pedro Garcia had heard that there were some concerns about his level of communication with parents, but he wanted to hear more.

So when the president of the district's Parent Advisory Council (PAC) offered to create an online survey so community members could evaluate Dr. Garcia's performance, the superintendent urged him to do it.

The results, though not scientifically valid, gave Dr. Garcia and his staff helpful information from parents and teachers.

"I think it's important to listen to the community and hear their opinions about our operation," Dr. Garcia told Education World.


According to the survey, which drew about 3,000 responses, some parents and teachers expressed concerns about communications between them and the superintendent, echoing what Dr. Garcia had heard before.

"There were no real surprises," Dr. Garcia said. "We already knew our interaction with parents needed improvement -- and this survey spoke to that. We are proceeding with plans to improve in this area."

Changes include posting more information on the district Web site and Dr. Garcia scheduling more meetings with parent groups.

PAC chairman David Kern, who created the survey and tabulated the responses, called the results "fascinating." "They were all over the sector," Kern told Education World. "By and large, they thought he [Dr. Garcia] was shaking up the system."

Respondents identified themselves as parents or students, said Kern. PAC members and principals had identical responses. "By and large they were less critical, because they have regular contact with the superintendent. Teachers and parents at large felt differently; they felt more out of the loop."

Kern added he was not surprised when Dr. Garcia wanted PAC members to respond; he was a little surprised when Dr. Garcia said he wanted to open the survey to everyone. "He said the comments would be useful."


The idea for the survey surfaced at a PAC meeting with the superintendent, during a discussion about how to improve the district. Dr. Garcia said he was interested in being evaluated by parents and teachers at the same time, and Kern offered to design an online survey.

"It was not as scientific as some surveys; there was an open-ended invitation, so any one could respond," according to Kern. "We based it on a series of questions Dr. Garcia supplied." They were based on information from Robert Marzano, author of the book What Works in Schools. "We eliminated some questions and added some we thought would be more appropriate for parents.

"I think it was worthwhile, but the results have to be taken with a grain of salt," Kern added.

One aspect of the results that needs to be considered is that a large number of responses came from PAC members. "It would be wonderful to have more evenly distributed responses from parents across the board," added Kern.

Some people, possibly students, also may have responded multiple times, said Woody McMillin, the district's public information director.

Dr. Garcia also did not take the responses too personally. "He is a very thick-skinned person."

"While the survey may not be statistically valid, it has merit in that we want to draw feedback from the community," McMillin continued. "It's always good if you have your ears open and listen to the community."


Whether to survey the community again has not been determined, largely because of the time involved.

"It was a lot of work on my part; it's a matter of whether I have time to do it again," said Kern. "The work was in the data analysis. I crunched the numbers; the open-ended questions were a huge amount of work. [Although] I wrote a program that made it easy to show answers quickly."

Dr. Garcia said he would welcome another survey, if someone had the time to do it. "I'm certainly open to any evaluations and invite critiques of my performance and the performance of our district." He added, though, that the approach might not work for every district. "Every district and every school is different so I can't issue a blanket recommendation. Informal surveys may not provide accurate data and they may do more harm than good."

The willingness to submit to this type of evaluation, though, sends an important message to the community, according to Kern. "I think it's very helpful for the city that the superintendent cares what kind of job he is doing," he said. "Confidence in public education is a rare thing these days; anything we can do to improve that is good."


More on Evaluation

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Article by Gary Hopkins
Education World® Editor-in-Chief
Copyright © 2006 Education World