There’s wide agreement in the K-12 sector that one of the preeminent vehicles for building and maintaining a close, productive, and enduring board-superintendent working relationship is a well-designed and meticulously executed process for board evaluation of superintendent performance. Superintendent evaluation is often carried out by the board’s “governance” (sometimes called “board operations”) committee – at least annually and often semi-annually early in the superintendent’s tenure. I’m pleased to report that in recent years, an increasing number of school boards have moved away from those once-popular but highly subjective questionnaires that assess the superintendent’s functional excellence (for example, ranking the superintendent on how well – on a 5-point scale – she handles the educational leadership, external relations and long range financial planning functions). Instead, many school boards these days take a much more objective – and relevant – approach: assessing their superintendent in terms of overall district performance in meeting targets established in the annual operating plan/budget (for example, planned increases in student achievement at particular grade levels; a planned decrease in the high school dropout rate; the completion of a major capital construction project; etc.).
Many school districts have made the superintendent evaluation process even more meaningful by focusing not only on overall district performance, but also on the superintendent’s achievement of his unique “CEO-centric” leadership targets. The superintendent’s CEO-centric leadership targets involve the direct use of her own time in achieving particular high-priority outcomes meriting close superintendent attention. These annual CEO-centric performance promises, which are typically negotiated with the board’s governance (or board operations) committee at the end of the fiscal year for the upcoming year, tend, in my experience, to fall into four main categories:
- Board development and support: for example, the superintendent promises that he will make sure the board’s new standing committees are fully functional by the second quarter of the upcoming fiscal year.
- Strategic organizational development: for example, the superintendent promises that she will make sure that the cooperation agreement with the local university is adopted by both boards by November 30.
- Internal management capacity building: for example, the superintendent promises that he will play a hands-on role in recruiting a new associate superintendent for curriculum and instruction by September 1.
- External stakeholder relations: for example, the superintendent promises that she will reinvigorate the relationship with the chamber of commerce, partly by engineering her appointment to the chamber board.
There are two compelling reasons for adding superintendent CEO-centric promises – CEO resolutions, if you will – to the evaluation mix. First, negotiating CEO-centric leadership targets with the governance or board operations committee has proved to be a highly effective way to ensure agreement on the superintendent’s more particular leadership priorities (as distinguished from district-wide operational priorities). Second, experience has taught that the discussion of CEO-centric leadership targets helps to cement the board-superintendent relationship – by surfacing and averting potential conflicts that might damage the relationship, and also by signaling that the superintendent welcomes – and isn’t the least bit defensive about – the board’s involvement in superintendent priority setting.
If you’ve already negotiated your leadership resolutions with your board’s governance committee, now – at the beginning of a new calendar year – might be a symbolically attractive time to update and fine-tune them with your board’s governance committee. And if you haven’t yet come up with a set of mutually agreeable leadership resolutions, what better time to begin the dialogue with your board’s governance committee than at the onset of the new year?