The Texas superintendent evaluation process assists both the superintendent and school board with clarifying goals and expectations for the school district. The success of any school district in fulfilling its mission to educate children depends on the ability of the superintendent and board of trustees to jointly establish and attain the goals and objectives of the district. The superintendent and the board must operate as a team in establishing the goals and objectives of the district. An integral part of that teamwork is the recognition of the superintendent’s role as chief executive officer of the district. See Tex.Educ.Code §11.201(a). Under state law, the superintendent has broad responsibilities and ultimate accountability for all district operations. See Tex.Educ.Code §11.201(d).
An effective means of providing focus and direction to the district leadership team is a well-conceptualized and well-developed evaluation process. Under Texas law, a school district’s board of trustees is required to conduct an annual written evaluation of the superintendent’s performance. Tex.Educ.Code §21.354(c). Pursuant to section 21.345(d) of the Texas Education Code, “funds of a school district may not be used to pay an administrator who has not been appraised under this section in the preceding 15 months.” Tex.Educ.Code §21.345(d). The superintendent’s evaluation process including the criteria for evaluation, the timeline and the instrument must be conducted through the use of a written evaluation instrument. The evaluation instrument should be cooperatively developed and reviewed in advance of the evaluation so that the district, the board and the superintendent can prepare for and benefit from the evaluation process. The Texas Administrative Code establishes minimum criteria for the evaluation process. 19 Tex.Admin.Code §150.1022. Those criteria, called “domains and descriptors”, are:
- Instructional management
- School or organization morale
- School or organization improvement
- Personnel management
- Management of administrative, fiscal and facilities functions
- Student management
- School or community relations
- Professional growth and development
- Academic excellence indicators and campus performance objectives
- School board relations
A district may utilize either the commissioner-recommended appraisal process and performance criteria for its superintendent’s formal evaluation or it may develop an alternative process and performance criteria in accordance with section 21.354 of the Texas Education Code. Id.; See also Tex.Educ.Code §21.354(c). However, whether the district choose to use the commissioner-recommended appraisal process or develops its own, the superintendent’s formal evaluation should mirror the goals, objectives and expectations of the district.
The domains and descriptors used in a specific district’s formal appraisal will typically be found in its board policy BJCD (EXHIBIT). The Texas Association of School Boards (TASB) has promulgated a master evaluation instrument which is used by many districts in Texas. It is an excellent resource and may be found on the TASB website. By policy the board should adopt procedures outlining the superintendent’s evaluation cycle. This article discusses the various phases of the superintendent’s annual evaluation cycle. The evaluation cycle is divided into five phases. This article discusses the important elements necessary for the success of each phase in building and conducting the superintendent’s evaluation process.
Phase 1: May, June, and July – Annual Conference to Set Goals and Expectations
The superintendent and the board are required to annually participate together in a team-building session. 19 Tex. Admin. Code §61.1(b)(2). The purpose of this session is to enhance the effectiveness of the superintendent and the board in working together toward the common purpose of the well-being of the children in their district. Id. This form of training also provides for the assessment and identification of continuing education needs for both superintendent and the board. Id; See also 19 Tex. Admin. Code §150.1022. Successful board/superintendent teams elect to conduct the team-building training in conjunction with the annual conference to set goals and objectives for the district and the superintendent. The coordination of these activities provides the opportunity for the development of shared goals of the superintendent and the board for the district. The superintendent and the board are required to develop and identify the responsibilities to be carried out by the superintendent/board team. See Tex.Educ.Code §11.201(d)(14) .
If the evaluation process is an open, results-based format, a superintendent and board action plan should be developed and prepared, utilizing, at least in part, those performance domains and descriptors mandated by Texas law. See, e.g., 19 Tex. Admin. Code §150.1021. The action plan should include some agreed-upon prioritization of goals and objectives for the district and superintendent, with the delineation of maintenance and/or modifications of current goals and any addition of new goals and objectives. Along with the development of the action plan, as with any kind of plan development, it is critical that consideration be given to the resources necessary for the accomplishment of the specified strategies for meeting the goals and objectives for the district.
Another critical component in this phase of the evaluation cycle is the delineation of roles and expectations. In an effective evaluation process, performance standards and expectations are explicit and fully understood by all members of the board and by the superintendent. Annually, an examination should be conducted of the district’s current qualifications and duties for the superintendent. A district’s qualifications and duties for the superintendent are typically found in the district’s board policies BJA (LEGAL) and BJA (LOCAL). In connection with this process, the qualifications and duties in BJA (LEGAL) and BJA (LOCAL) should be reviewed jointly by the board and superintendent at least annually to determine whether they meet the board’s current expectations for the superintendent. If not, these board policies should be revised so that there is a clear understanding of the superintendent’s duties by both the board and the superintendent.
At the same time, an examination should be conducted of the current district improvement plan, and the previously utilized superintendent evaluation process and appraisal instrument. Following a comprehensive examination of these critical aspects of the evaluation process and the analysis of district student performance indicators, written goals and objectives should be developed collaboratively by the board and superintendent for the district and the superintendent.
The use of a trained and experienced facilitator is recommended for both the team-building training and the planning and development of the superintendent’s evaluation process for superintendent evaluation. Planning should include consideration of the desired outcomes and the tools, activities, and processes that will be used to facilitate the active involvement of the superintendent and the members of the board.
Phase 2: August and September – Modify and Adopt Campus and District Plans
Successful superintendents enhance the instructional effectiveness of a school district through a concerted focus on student performance and on the continual improvement of curriculum and instruction. The development and implementation of systems designed to formatively assess district curriculum and instruction are critical to the improvement process. Superintendents should focus on curriculum and instruction through the collaborative development, implementation, and support of district-wide goals and the frequent articulation and documentation of these goals. The information in the district’s annual report describing the educational performance of the district is required by law to be a primary consideration in evaluating the superintendent. See Tex.Educ.Code §39.054.
Phase 3: October and November – Conduct Formative Evaluation
Formative evaluation is an ongoing process of collecting documentation related to the goals, objectives for the district and superintendent, and expectations previously established by the board and superintendent. Periodically, the board and the superintendent should review information collected and compiled from formative evaluation processes and the board should provide feedback to the superintendent. It is recommended that the board president and the superintendent compile the information gathered from formative processes into a single report to be shared with all board members. This is not the time to draw final conclusions regarding the superintendent’s evaluation or actions on the superintendent’s contract. The primary purpose of this informal conference is to check progress, problem solve, and redefine implementation of the goals and objectives for the district and superintendent as necessary.
In the event the board modifies the evaluation instrument, format and/or procedure and such modifications require new or different goals, objectives and expectations, the superintendent should be given a reasonable amount of time to demonstrate performance prior to evaluation. This is an important and necessary safeguard that should be negotiated into the superintendent’s contract.
Phase 4: December and January- Annual Evaluation Conference for Actions on Superintendent’s Contract
It is difficult for board members to recall or be aware of all aspects of the superintendent’s performance throughout the year. It is critical, therefore, that an accountability report be prepared by the superintendent and presented to the board by superintendent prior to the completion of the superintendent evaluation process so that the superintendent has the opportunity to share performance data for each criterion in the superintendent’s evaluation process with the board. This should be a very comprehensive report that details from the superintendent’s perspective the status of the district and the superintendent reaching their respective goals and objectives and, if not, why not and when. Following this presentation, board members should be given time to ask for clarification concerning any aspect of the information shared in the superintendent’s report.
It is imperative to the district’s improvement that the superintendent be fully empowered by the board to make changes and to carry out strategies designed jointly by the superintendent and the board to achieve the district’s goals, objectives and expectations. The superintendent should be and is accountable for the district achieving its goals, objectives and expectations. Therefor, an important task in improving the evaluation process is to assess the statutory and contractual authority the superintendent actually has to control the resources necessary to do so.
A carefully drafted employment contract between the superintendent and the district will contain specific provisions setting forth the collaborative process between the board and the superintendent in designing the evaluation instrument and the formal evaluation. Most superintendents’ contracts in Texas contain these specific provisions.
The superintendent must have the authority to perform the duties required of the superintendent. The superintendent’s duties, as set forth in Tex.Educ.Code §11.201(d), in board policies BJA (LEGAL) and BJA (LOCAL), and in the superintendent’s contract, are extensive. The members of the board and particularly new board members must be reminded annually of the explicit roles and responsibilities of the superintendent to lead and manage operations of the district versus the board’s role to set policy and provide the resources for the district to be successful. If the board is to reasonably hold the superintendent accountable for the outcome of goals, objectives, and expectations for the district, the board must provide the superintendent the latitude and authority as required by statute, policy and the superintendent’s contract to manage the district and provide the superintendent and the district the appropriate resources to realistically meet the goals, objectives, and expectations set by the board for the district and the superintendent.
The board and the superintendent are jointly responsible for achieving results. An assessment of the extent to which the board fulfilled its roles and responsibilities will be necessary to render a complete and accurate conclusion about the district’s performance.
The superintendent is the chief executive officer for the district. See Tex.Educ.Code §11.201(a). As a result, the formal evaluation of the superintendent should mirror the goals, objectives and expectations of the district. If the board fails to recognize this important point, the success of the formal evaluation is likely to be seriously compromised.
The formal evaluation should be conducted in a collaborative manner between all members of the board. The board should avoid any use of averages in completing the evaluation. Texas law provides no authority allowing the board to average scores on the instrument used for the superintendent’s evaluation. Consequently, strategies should be utilized by the board president to generate an evaluation instrument that reflects a consensus of the entire board. The board should vote on each component of the superintendent’s evaluation with the majority vote of the board prevailing on each component. The final evaluation should reflect the opinion of the majority of the board. No individual board member’s comments should be part of the evaluation unless, by a majority vote, the board determines that that comment should be included in the evaluation.
Complete agreement between the board and the superintendent regarding evaluation results is preferable; however, disagreements may occur. Should a disagreement exist between the superintendent and the board on the results of the evaluation, the superintendent is entitled by law to submit a written response to the final appraisal to be attached to the final evaluation in the superintendent’s personnel file. Tex. Educ.Code §21.352.
A superintendent is strongly encouraged to use this written response for purposes of informing the board of any failure(s) to follow state law, board policy(ies), provisions of the superintendent’s contract or the requirements of the evaluation process adopted by the board. Furthermore, the written response is an opportunity for the superintendent to object to comments or ratings that are not factually based or are based on misinformation regarding the superintendent’s and/or the district’s performance.
The superintendent’s written response to the evaluation should include a formal request for the board to consider modifying the evaluation where appropriate, and if the evaluation is not modified, the written response should be attached to the evaluation in the superintendent’s personnel file. Any written response or rebuttal must be submitted within ten (10) working days of receiving a written observation summary, a written summative annual evaluation report, or any other written documentation associated with the superintendent’s evaluation. 19 Tex.Admin. Code §150.1005. At the discretion of the board, the time to respond may be extended to fifteen (15) working days. Id.
Phase 5: February, March, and April – Conduct Formative Evaluation
Reports generated during this final phase of the evaluation cycle should be utilized to determine changes necessary in the district’s programs and practices during the last few months of the school year. Part of the evaluation cycle should be used in developing the budget for the next school year. The evaluative reports should also serve as a guide for campus and district planning for the next school year. In addition, results of the formative evaluation should be used in the following years Phase I of the evaluation cycle to develop revisions to existing goals and objectives for the district and superintendent.
Continual improvement and growth through constructive input from the board is critical for the superintendent to develop and have the skills and knowledge necessary to effectively lead today’s schools. Educational organizations are significantly more complex than ever before. The superintendent of the 21st century must be able to effectively respond to a diverse constituency; highly charged political issues; and increasing standards for students, teachers, and district performance among other issues. The most effective school leaders are those individuals who continually strive to improve their knowledge and understanding of the roles and responsibilities of the board and superintendent and improvement of their district.
The superintendent evaluation is unique in comparison to how other professional educators are evaluated. The superintendent’s evaluation can only be effective if board members and the superintendent have the knowledge and understanding of the legal, practical and political implications of the evaluation process. In that regard, the most effective evaluation processes are those that are cooperatively developed and implemented by the board and superintendent in advance of the evaluation so that the district, the board and the superintendent can prepare for and benefit from the evaluation process. The superintendent’s contract and district policies should detail the superintendent evaluation process with a foundational requirement for collaboration between the board and the superintendent in designing the evaluation process that clearly communicates in advance the board’s goals, objectives and expectations for the district and the superintendent.
This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for legal advice. Specific questions and circumstances regarding the issues addressed in this article should be individually discussed with legal counsel.
Adams, Lynch & Loftin, P.C.