Lee County Superintendent Jim Evans is part of a group piloting new superintendent effectiveness standards.

Lee County Superintendent Jim Evans is part of a group piloting new superintendent effectiveness standards. Photo by Amy Wallot, Oct. 4, 2013

By Matthew Tungate

Superintendent Jim Evans volunteered his Lee County school district to participate in the Principal and Teacher Professional Growth and Effectiveness Systems (PGES) for the past two years.

“I want our district to improve for kids with well-defined practices and refining our tools continuously, and if there’s something we’re not doing, I want to find a way to improve and make it better,” he said.

But Evans knew that school leadership doesn’t only include teachers and principals – ultimately, it begins with him. So when the opportunity to participate in a superintendent version arose, Evans was the first to volunteer, he said.

“I thought this is a way improve myself as a leader,” he said.

Evans is one of 21 experienced superintendents piloting Next-Generation Superintendent Effectiveness Standards this year, said Tommy Floyd, Kentucky Department of Education chief of staff who is heading the Superintendent PGES (SPGES) work. A steering committee will review the feedback of those superintendents and develop a superintendent effectiveness system and supporting documentation for a 2014-15 statewide pilot and 2015-2016 statewide implementation. Beginning with the 2014-15 statewide pilot, districts may choose the newly developed system or use their own locally developed, comparable system.

Rhonda Caldwell, Kentucky Association of School Administrators (KASA) deputy director and a member of the steering committee, said the superintendent effectiveness standards grew from the organization’s leadership series for new superintendents.

“Led by sitting superintendents, the design team’s first goal was to ensure the program would be responsive to the needs of the 21st-century superintendent. The effectiveness standards emerged based on this priority,” she said.

Caldwell said the standards are the result of months of work by the program’s design team. The standards were successfully piloted in 2012-13 with new superintendents, she said.

Evans, a member of the steering committee, said, “It is a broad spectrum of things a superintendent has to address and manage. I’m not saying you do every single one daily, but over time these are things that, if you want to have a successful school system, you have to incorporate into your job.”

Simpson County Superintendent James Flynn said the new standards help districts align their vision/mission statements with the state’s emphasis on getting all students college- and career-ready.

“It’s good to have a set of standards that all boards and superintendents can look to as best practices, and working toward those standards, good things will happen,” he said.

Floyd said the SPGES steering committee, made up of superintendents and representatives from the Kentucky Department of Education, Kentucky Association of School Administrators, Kentucky School Boards Association, Council on Postsecondary Education, Education Professional Standards Board and KASA, will streamline the eight standards and 80 indicators and develop a rubric for superintendents and school boards.

“The priority is not scoring an X, but that I learned where I need to get better,” Floyd said. “It’s a system of continuous improvement, just like we’re asking of teachers, just like we’re asking of every other Kentucky educator, just like we’re asking of our students.”

As part of the new process, school board members will receive training on how to effectively use the new SPGES, Floyd said.

Flynn thinks that is a good idea, since educators who evaluate certified staff must receive annual training. The most important thing a board does is hire the superintendent and then support his or her success, he said. Part of that is giving the superintendent quality feedback.

“So I think if we can help boards be effective in evaluating a superintendent, then that’s only going to benefit how those board teams function, and how they function is going to impact how the district functions,” Flynn said.

Boards and superintendents then will use the tools in the SPGES to collaboratively make decisions about areas where they would like to see superintendents put more effort, Floyd said

“What happens to boys and girls when they do that? Things get better. It’s just that simple,” he said.

Until the new system is complete, Commissioner Terry Holliday has asked superintendents and boards to incorporate three specific areas into their superintendent-evaluation process – Delivery Targets/PGES; Budget and Support; and Facilities/Resources portion of the TELL Kentucky survey – and discuss them each semester. Superintendents are then to upload evidence of the discussions into Adaptive System of School Improvement Support Tools (ASSIST), a Web-based tool for developing, implementing and monitoring district improvement plans.

“The whole interest here is to provide a direct link from what superintendents and boards talk about to what’s included in district improvement plans to what translates into decisions made for boys and girls,” Floyd said. “Those three areas directly impact teachers and students.”

While the requirement to document discussion in the three areas is new, Floyd said most superintendents and school boards are already talking about the issues.

Lee County Superintendent Jim Evans, second from left, discusses an upcoming district review with Instructional Supervisor Sharon Bush, Special Programs Coordinator Glenna Cummins and Director of Pupil Personnel Ray Shuler.

Lee County Superintendent Jim Evans, second from left, discusses an upcoming district review with Instructional Supervisor Sharon Bush, Special Programs Coordinator Glenna Cummins and Director of Pupil Personnel Ray Shuler.
Photo by Amy Wallot, Oct. 4, 2013

“The idea is to leverage valuable information that does impact students vs. just anything you want to talk about,” he said. “It gives superintendents a great opportunity to explain what they’re doing to meet some of the most important needs, and that is student achievement, professionals, facilities and budget.”

Flynn said he regularly discusses such topics with his board, even going beyond what the commissioner has asked for.

“We’re regularly looking at key metrics and how we’re doing against those metrics,” he said. “I don’t think it’s any big change for us in terms of discussing.”

Evans agreed.

“I think this is work that superintendents are already doing,” he said. “I think it’s going to streamline some. I do like it because it opens up more communication between you and your board on what you’re accountable for. It does force that communication to take place, but I think in most places it’s already happening.”

Even if most superintendents are having such discussions, it’s good to make sure they all are, he said.

“It’s an accountability piece: if you don’t monitor certain things, they don’t happen,” Evans said. “I think it’s a positive thing. It holds me and our board more accountable for those key things.”

Tommy Floyd, tommy.floyd@education.ky.gov, (502) 564-3141