Superintendent Evaluations: What’s Important?

By Phil Gore, PhD, TASB Leadership Team Services

Recent Texas school governance research has identified what is important to trustees when evaluating a superintendent. School boards across the state agreed on some key attributes they look for in their superintendent, including:

  • Leadership
  • Communication
  • Focus on student outcomes

The study, completed by Audrey Young* and sponsored in part by TASB, found that trustees placed the highest value on the quality of leadership the superintendent provides.

Leadership:

Leadership in student achievement is a major factor for trustees when evaluating a superintendent’s performance. Board members overwhelmingly emphasized the importance of considering student outcomes. Most respondents reported they consider between one and three student performance goals in their evaluation. 

Communication:

School board members highly value personal communication with the superintendent, and they believe the superintendent contributes to developing a strong leadership team. When evaluating a superintendent on these skills, the board relies heavily on their personal observations as well as feedback from others. They want to know that the superintendent is friendly and has a good rapport with the board and others in the community. Ultimately, communication reflects the culture and values the team shares. Open, honest, and focused dialogue builds trust, clarity, and efficiency that is much more important than the instrument or process used for evaluation. 

Student outcomes:

Trustees are bombarded with a lot of information from a variety of sources, but experienced board members learn to filter out the noise and focus on the key question: How are the students in our district doing? Knowing that the superintendent is focused on how students are doing is essential to attentive trustees. 

When to evaluate?

Currently, 37 percent of Texas school boards evaluate their superintendent in January and 16 percent in June. A growing number of school boards (25 percent) are evaluating their superintendents from June through October— after data on student achievement, human resources, financials, attendance, discipline, and employee satisfaction becomes available. Half of Texas trustees reported using the education commissioner’s recommended performance appraisal,  and half reported using a district-developed appraisal.

Planning is essential

Regardless of the process, it is important for school boards to: 

  • Have a plan.
  • Agree on criteria and timelines in advance.
  • Follow through with the plan.
  • Make the process as objective and intentional as possible.

More information on superintendent evaluations can be found in the TASB Member Center at tasb.org/trustees. *Audrey Young, EdD, is a trustee in Apple Springs ISD and a school administrator in Nacogdoches ISD. Young is a 2018 LTASB graduate.

This bulletin, produced by TASB Leadership Team Services, examines research and shares philosophies to inform and promote exceptional governance within school boards across Texas.