There’s been plenty of news lately about Kitsap County school superintendents.
Last week South Kitsap School District Superintendent Michelle Reid announced she will be moving to the much larger Northshore School District in Bothell. And Faith Chapel, superintendent in Bainbridge Island School District for the past eight years, was lauded last Friday on her retirement.
In North Kitsap School District, Superintendent Patty Page has faced mounting criticism from the teachers’ union and community. A vote of no confidence by the union on May 26 was supported by members of the custodial and food service employees’ union. And on June 9, the school board received a petition from community members with 419 signatures asking the board for a leadership change, as union leaders also have suggested.
The petition reiterated the union’s complaints about a climate of intimidation under Page’s “top-down leadership” style.
Given all that, there is heightened interest this year in the superintendent’s annual evaluation process.
The board met last week in executive session (a meeting closed to the public) that was on a Wednesday (not the board’s usual Thursday meeting). Board president Beth Worthington confirmed that the special session held June 15 was related to Page’s annual evaluation and that the board had met in executive session June 9 for the same reason.
Districts all have slightly different methods for evaluating the superintendent. As in North Kitsap, discussion of a superintendent’s performance and goals for the upcoming year typically takes place in executive session.
In Bremerton, for example, both the mid-year and year-end superintendent evaluation are done in executive session, BSD spokeswoman Patty Glaser said. The superintendent’s progress toward his own goals are reviewed in executive session. The district’s goals, which may overlap with with the superintendent’s goals to some extent are presented and voted on in open session, before the public, Glaser said.
Worthington explained, “It has not been the practice of NKSD to discuss the content of the superintendent evaluation in public. The board works hard to have a relationship of trust, honesty and support with the superintendent and will work hard to have the same with future superintendents. Not discussing the evaluation of the superintendent performance in public allows for meaningful and productive communication for improvement for the benefit of NKSD.”
The superintendent’s final evaluation is, however, a public record. The state’s open public records act generally exempts evaluation of a public employee from disclosure. But not in the case of the director or lead employee of a public agency.
Korinne Henry (no relation to me), North Kitsap School District’s public records officer, explains, “This is an exception to the normal rule that public employee evaluation information affects employee personal privacy rights and is exempt from disclosure under RCW 42.56. 230(3). The rationale for this exception is found in an appellate court decision involving a city manager. Like a city manager, a school superintendent manages the district and is evaluated directly by an elected school board, the same as the elected officials of a city evaluate a city manager, thus the public has a legitimate interest in knowing the results of the evaluation.”
In North Kitsap, the superintendent’s evaluation is a summary incorporating all board members’ input and consensus of the board on the superintendent’s performance in meeting goals and on a number of evaluation criteria, such as leadership, community engagement and collaboration, and improvement of student education and services. The superintendent’s contract, including salary, also is a public document.
Any action taken by a school board in executive session, such as voting to renew (or not renew) the superintendent’s contract, must be made in open session before the public.
Under NKSD policy and procedure, the superintendent’s evaluation is to be completed by July 1, but the board can extend or modify the contract before July 1. That will be the case this year, Worthington said. “Due to the complexity of current issues and scheduling constraints of individual board members, I believe we need more time.”
At Thursday’s board meeting (June 23), the board will consider a resolution to extend the July 1 date to the July 14 regular meeting, Worthington said.
The board at the July 14 meeting also will discuss Page’s goals for the 2016-2017 school year. “That has been our practice for the last several years,” Worthington said.
Page has said she is retiring at the end of the upcoming school year after a lengthy career in education
As leader of the district, Page’s annual goals are inevitably intertwined with North Kitsap’s Strategic Plan goals. There are three main goals in the plan, one of which is “stakeholder satisfaction and support.”
“The superintendent’s goals may relate to her individual performance in assisting the district to attain the Strategic Plan and goals,” Worthington said.
Worthington and Page in a May 25 letter to the public (the day before the no confidence vote) acknowledged they had not publicly addressed climate surveys by the teachers’ union in 2013 and 2015 that reflected negatively on Page’s leadership. In the letter, Worthington and Page pledged a commitment to improving relations with staff and the community. Public and staff comments at the June 9 board meeting indicate a growing impatience to see signs this effort is under way.
Chris Fraser, teachers’ union president, said frustration among her members is growing due to lack of movement. “The school board should strongly consider buying out the contract for our current superintendent and selecting an interim superintendent with input from stakeholder groups,” Fraser wrote in a June 9 press release.
The board meanwhile has made discussion of communication and public trust a regular item on its agenda.
Fraser has called for the board to meet with employees and has criticized Worthington for discouraging such meetings. Worthington said it’s not the board’s role to “address complaints directly with citizens, employees and employee organizations.” That’s up to administrators and supervisory staff, she said.
Worthington said that board members are indeed willing to meet with staff and receive their written complaints, comments and concerns. What the board shouldn’t do, she said, is meet in any context that would smack of taking administrative action or constitute negotiation of contract terms. Doing so could compromise the relationship between the district administration and the union, Worthington said.
However, Worthington said she supports suggestions from board members Jim Almond and Glen Robbins, who said they’d like to go out to schools on a listening tour.
“While we can’t really be the workhorse in resolving complaints, we find it valuable to know what people’s experiences are,” Worthington said.
It’s a subtle difference. How did it get lost in translation?
“We probably are not as competent and well versed in public relations as we should be,” she said.