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“Working Shoulder to Shoulder with Teachers, Parents, and the School Community Builds the Trust To Move To Excellence and Equity”: An Interview with an Expert.

How exactly do superintendents get evaluated? After all, holding our top school district leaders is, in my experience, just as important — if not more so — than how teachers and other staff get evaluated. These questions led to  my nterview with Dr. Constance Evelyn, of Evaluating the Superintendent:  The Process with Collaborative Compromises and Critical Considerations. Dr. Evelyn has more than twenty years of experience as an educational leader in public school and currently serves as the superintendent of schools in Valley Stream, New York.  As a longtime public educator, she has received numerous awards and recognition for her leadership and dedicated service to students across the state. This past July, she was one of six recipients for the 2019 National Harriet Tubman Freedom Award sponsored by the New York Institute for Dance and Education.

Vivett: Why was it important for you to write this book?

Dr. Evelyn: Superintendents have persisted in creating new pathways for student success through their dedicated leadership across decades of educational reform.  However, the systems within public school districts associated with the evaluation of the superintendent have not kept pace with the expectations for district leaders.  This text illuminates the critical nexus of the processes associated with the appraisal of the district’s premiere instructional leader and meeting success with targeted outcomes for continuous improvement.

Vivett: As an educator who often sees the very same hold true, this quote from Chapter One instantly resonated with me:  “The official establishment of the relationship between boards and superintendents is typically legitimized by documents written by individual that are not actually working in schools.” How have you addressed this breach in the districts where you have served as the superintendent?

Dr. Evelyn: Moving the superintendent-board relationship from paper to action requires effective planning and purposeful action.  In my experience, I have incorporated many steps that strengthen this relationship and create shared expectations about how we will work as a team to govern the district.  These steps have included immediately scheduling one on one meetings with individual board members to talk with them about why they became trustees of the district and their expectations regarding how we will move the district’s achievements forward.  Additionally, I ensure that we retreat as a board upon my arrival to review aspirational goals and relative documents such as district mission and vision statements to ensure alignment amongst the “thinking and doing” parts of our work. Equally important is building in checkpoints to insure that we continue to have consensus about timelines and targeted goals for our students and educators.

Vivett: How do you create a collaborative environment with your board?

Dr. Evelyn: Any highly effective working relationship is anchored by great communication.  The board-superintendent relationship is no different in this regard. In Dr. Powers’ and my text, we provide an illustration on p. 52 delineating how the board and superintendent can devise a meaningful evaluation process that is supported by shared expectations regarding the multifaceted dimensions of “communication”  “Effective communication should ultimately be understood by a board and superintendent as paramount to any relational and evaluative understanding. Without crystalized communication expectations, the construction of an evaluation process lacks a secure foundation and is predictably unreliable.”

Vivett: In your book you talk about “institutional memory.” What does this mean?

Dr. Evelyn: Institutional memory in school districts can be defined as the perpetual impact of the experiences and “know-how” held by the people working with the organization.  For example, if the answer to requests for more resources have typically been “no due to budgetary constraints,” then the mindset becomes one of ‘scarcity’ rather than ‘plenty’.  Consequently, when you become the new leader and work with the board to find ways to lend more resources to teachers and the classroom environment, the people can present as surprised or confused as it does not conform with regular experiences over time (i.e., memory) within the organization.  Schools can move forward and heal from past negative experiences by actively seeking to more fully include all stakeholders in the decision-making process, especially teachers. Many of us who have become educational leaders attribute our professional successes to the wonderful teachers we’ve had who created opportunities within schools for to develop the requisite skills to lead.  Working shoulder to shoulder with teachers, parents, and the school community builds the trust that can become the bridge towards excellence and equity in our schools.

Vivett: Are there any other thoughts you’d like to share with New York School Talk readers?

Dr. Evelyn: There are more than 50 million children being served in public schools across America today.  District leaders are in a powerful position to support and, frankly, ensure the success of those working on behalf of these babies.  The superintendent’s evaluation is the school board’s vehicle to critically improve the superintendent’s capacity to increase learning for all students.  It has often been remarked that “leadership is everything”; this is the connection of this text and equitable access and outcomes for all children.

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