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How to Evaluate a Schools Superintendent 101

WBFO's Mike Desmond

Exactly how do you evaluate the superintendent of an urban school system? The Buffalo School Board grappled with that issue Wednesday night.

Under his contract, Buffalo Public Schools Superintendent Kriner Cash is evaluated annually and there is a checklist to follow. During Wednesday's meeting, Board members spent nearly two hours trying to determine what should be on the checklist and what should be measurable. That includes issues like whether graduation rate changes can be in the evaluation and how well he manages staff.

Ferry District member Sharon Belton Cottman said there are metrics to determine how well the school system is doing, like the performance of high school students.

"We've got four years to get them out the door and, if they're not reading at a certain level, if they're not doing it," she said. "This is is why I always come back to the onus of the board, the onus of the district owning its own data. If you know you are sending into a building children who are not reading at a certain level, then automatically the supports should be going in there to follow those children, not after the fact."

"Could we talk about how we evaluate students in a whole child approach, where we're breaking down instead of looking at your evaluation as a whole approach," asked West District member Jen Mecozzi. "To me, everything that everyone is looking for is going to come with time. I'm totally with you. Again, I say people are noticing that there are changes with community schools."

At-Large Member Larry Quinn was very definite in asking for numbers to be used, numbers that can be determined objectively. He said the district does not have enough accountability and objective criteria.

"What I see in schools a lot is a lot of chumminess, a lack of accountability because it's difficult," Quinn said. "You go to school every day and know a teacher that might be your friend out of school. I see a lot of that sort and that creeps in when you don't have objective criteria that judges performance. I see and hear in a lot of teachers, 'I go the extra mile and I'm not acknowledged for it.'"

Several board members said they do not see enough sets of data to determine how schools in their districts or citywide do on the state tests and other evaluations. Part of the problem is the long lag between taking tests and the arrival of the scores to City Hall. Cash is not the first superintendent to complain about waiting very long times for Albany to deliver test results.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.