Monday, June 23, 2008

Evaluate Your School Administrator

Just before the end of the school year in a survey monitored by the San Leandro Teachers' Association, ninety percent of the teachers who participated voted "no-confidence" in the Superintendent.  The results didn't come as a surprise to many people, including some of the board members.  Our Superintendent has been in her position for five years, and has never been a staff favorite. But this is the first time we've actually quantified how 'un-favorite' she is.  

I generally think that school administration is an impossible job, with pressure from too many interest groups.  Every good administrator has to piss off someone with almost every decision, whether you're answering to state mandates, parent relationships, board relationships or Union relationships.  But when ninety percent of your staff won't follow your leadership, it's time to look at what you're doing that isn't working.

What's the lesson from this?  I think it's time for school districts to institute staff evaluation of their administrators as a normal part of the cycle of the school year.  Superintendents, principals and program directors could all benefit from a bottom-up evaluation.  In the education community, administrators often play musical chairs, moving from position to position frequently, and often burning their bridges as they go.  The teachers are often far more experienced than the administrators, usually much more firmly established in the school community, and an evaluation can lead to a better vision of where the school community has been and where it ought to be going.

Think about how teachers' insights could improve an administrators' performance in these areas:  the quality of internal staff communication,  staff (stakeholder) involvement in school-wide decisions, leadership development (remember that teachers usually last much longer than principals and superintendents), school climate and discipline, even new teacher orientation and support.

What's the catch?  Administrators might not go for it.  Why would they ever want to give their employees that much power?  Because it makes for better schools.  I wouldn't stop there, either.  I would also ask for leaders of the parent community to conduct an administrator evaluation.  These are the voices (teachers, faculty, parents) we say are important, yet they are excluded from the process of determining who runs our schools, and how our schools are run.

What happens when an administrator refuses to be evaluated?  Conduct the evaluation anyway!  Union leadership at a school should conduct surveys and share the results with the administrator (or the school board if the administration won't listen).  What message would be sent if the administrator didn't want to participate in such an exercise.  Think of the benefit to the school community of organized groups of people regularly meeting to talk about whether a school or a district is being well administered.

Here are the questions I have, which I invite your comments on.  What performance areas should a school administrator be evaluated on?  Which people should be involved in the evaluation?  What should be the process of dealing with the evaluation?

Every administrator gives lip service to involving parents and staff in school and district decisions.  An annual evaluation of administrators by teachers and parents would give a school community another important opportunity to talk.