Tuesday, June 16, 2015

A report on the June 9 School Board meeting

In this post, I’m going to tell you about the actual business conducted at last week’s monthly School Board meeting, along with some personal observations. In my next post, I’ll report on what happened in the 2–1/2 hours of public comments.

June 9 School Board meeting - 5:30 PM

The Agenda for this month’s meeting contained 96 items. It’s not as bad as it sounds, though, because 78 items comprised the Consent Agenda, i.e. items presented for Board approval without discussion unless a Board member requests it.

None of the consent items was pulled for discussion, not even Item 9, approval of a new kindergarten through 8th grade charter school. See the 643-page application here and related Naples Daily News article here. Florida law gives local school districts little power to reject charter applications as long as specified requirements are met, hence (presumably) the lack of Board discussion.

Next came a proposed change to the Agenda by Board member Erika Donalds (defeated on a 3–2 vote) and comments from about 30 public speakers. I encourage you to experience some of them yourself through the Video-on-Demand recording on the District website, beginning about 30 minutes in.

At around 8:15 PM, the Board meeting “really” began

First, two items of unfinished business (adoption of School Board Bylaw 0100 - Definitions and Policy 1010 - Board-Superintendent Relationship) were approved unanimously on their Second Reading, having been discussed at great length at previous meetings.

Policy 1010 reflects a significant change in how suggestions for new policies or revisions to existing policies can be made. The matter arose when Donalds and Lichter wanted several matters considered in the past, and felt they were being unfairly prevented from doing so. As revised:
"Such suggestions will be placed on the next agenda and addressed at a public meeting. Because such suggestions are linked to potential future District policy development and/or revision, the public will be given the opportunity to speak on whether any such suggestion merits further study. If the Board believes, as a matter of consensus, any such suggestion merits further study, the Superintendent shall have staff research the matter. The Superintendent will report staff’s findings to the Board and recommend to the Board whether a new or amended policy should be developed and brought forward as a first reading at the next biannual policy review work session."
There were then two information-only presentations. First, the District’s legislative lobbyist gave a Preliminary 2015 Legislative Review and Status, “preliminary” because final school funding and other outcomes would not be known until the state’s special Legislative Session ends toward the end of the month.

Then, a First Reading of the 2015–16 Student Progression Plan was presented, along with a document showing changes from the prior year. The Plan sets forth the rules, administrative procedures and promotion criteria by which students advance from grade to grade. It specifically addresses how parents are to be kept informed about their child’s progress. Parents, students, other interested citizens and school personnel are the intended readers of this document. There was no Board discussion; presumably the Plan will have a Second Reading at the next Board meeting.

The Board’s self-evaluation

Next, the Board’s self-evaluation was presented. As I wrote last week, I’m not surprised that it took a terrible turn this year. Everyone agrees that the message sent is concerning.

What to do about it is another story. In “School Board, a negative direction” (behind paywall), the Naples Daily News Editorial Board recommends reinstating appointed citizen advisory boards on curriculum and financial matters to address the lack of trust evidenced by the Board’s self-evaluation. Several community members I’ve spoken with agree.

But I am skeptical that individuals appointed by our polarized Board members would be any more willing to compromise than the Board members themselves. And I have no doubt that meeting the requests of the newly-empowered committee members would only add to the already significant time District staff currently spends meeting Board and community member requests. We don’t need more bureaucracy.

Instead, I urge the Board to do what they are supposed to do: work professionally and with positive intent, compromise, and get things done in the best interests of the children. I support Board member Julie Sprague’s request for another professionally-facilitated session focused on the Board’s Governance Model and another Board self-evaluation in November, when this group will have served together a full year. Watch a clip of her comments here.

The Superintendent’s 2014–15 evaluation and 2015–16 goals

To me, the most substantive Board discussion at Tuesday’s meeting concerned the Superintendent’s 2014–15 evaluation and proposed 2015–16 goals. You can watch it here, starting about five minutes into the video.

As I explained last week, the evaluation consists of two equally-weighted parts:
Donalds objected to the form of the evaluation, which had been approved by the predecessor Board a year ago.

First, she was troubled by what she called a “disconnect” between the Strategic Plan’s Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and the performance objectives being evaluated. In a memo she sent fellow Board members the day before the Board meeting, she wrote:
… Our evaluation must be based on how effective the actions of our Chief Executive were in achieving our shared goals, not merely whether she has taken actions or implemented strategies without ties to defined, measureable outcomes. ….
This is difficult to understand without comparing the Strategic Plan and Evaluation documents. Here’s an example using the first of the Strategic Plan’s six goals: “Expand Early Childhood Education to Enhance School Readiness and Early Learning.” That goal has three KPIs:
  1. Increase by four percent the number of CCPS VPK students who meet the criteria for Kindergarten Readiness as defined by the Florida Office of Early Learning.
  2. Strengthen and monitor Family Literacy programs at one hundred percent of elementary schools and develop and implement three Parent Academies one of which will focus on early childhood education.
  3. Provide professional learning opportunities by offering six sessions, two sessions annually, for community Pre-K providers.
The Plan lists a number of Strategies for each KPI for fiscal year 2015. As an example, the Strategies for the “increase by four percent” KPI are:
  • Conduct a minimum of two annual meetings with site Pre-K principals to review assessment data and to implement improvement strategies ….
  • Analyze the impact of professional learning efforts from previous year by ….
  • Promote communication by planning and delivering quarterly early childhood updates ….
By comparison and to Donalds’ point, the two performance objectives for this goal in the Superintendent’s evaluation instrument are:
  • Expand professional learning opportunities for community based agencies, based on identified needs.
  • Share best practices gathered from elementary reading coaches/principals to create a Family Literacy Collaboration website.
Board Chair Curatolo strongly disagreed with Donalds that the Strategic Plan’s KPIs should be the metrics evaluated. In her view, “No one goal can determine if student learning measures have been met. It’s collective.” There was a lengthy debate, well-argued by both sides.

Curatolo and Donalds have very different educational backgrounds, professional training, and career experiences. Curatolo is in her third four-year term as school board member, has a Certification in School District Administration, and has received Master Board Certification through the Florida School Board Association. Donalds’ education and professional experience is in accountancy and global management accounting, and this is the first year of her first term as a board member.

My own education and career are similar to Donalds’. I understand her point of view, although I don’t necessarily agree that a school district superintendent’s evaluation should be modeled on that of a corporate CEO. I am less familiar with the model Curatolo was supporting, and her experience and training in school board administration add value to the discussion. Hearing during the meeting how much more structured and demanding the Collier Superintendent’s evaluation is compared to other Districts in Florida was also interesting and relevant.

Regarding the second part of the evaluation, professional standards, Donalds objected to the subjectivity involved in evaluating them, and to the equal weight given to the quantitative (performance) and qualitative (professional standards) parts of the evaluation.

Curatolo agreed with Donalds that the overall assessment should more heavily weight the objective performance metrics than the subjective professional standards. Sprague disagreed. Pointing out that the professional standards came directly from the Connect Now Community Statement, she said she would not support lowering the weight of that section.

The discussion continued until ultimately Chair Curatolo called for a motion to approve the 2014–15 Evaluation and 2015–16 goals, which passed 3–2. While board members agreed on the evaluation, Donalds and Lichter voted no because they were unable to make changes to the goals.

In my view, one of the Board’s most important responsibilities is setting the Superintendent’s goals and evaluating her performance. To that end, having an effective evaluation tool is critical. I hope there will be more discussion and ultimately consensus reached on a revised set of evaluation metrics for the 2016–17 year.


My mission - what drives me to write this blog - is to encourage and facilitate community involvement in civic affairs and, ultimately, informed, fact-based voting. I hope this post did that, even if I didn’t tell you who said what during the 2–1/2 hours of public comments. That will be the subject of my next post, where I will also give my thoughts about how I might cover that part of Board meetings going forward.

Please share this post with your friends. You and they can subscribe to Sparker’s Soapbox by email at www.sparkers-soapbox.blogspot.com, “like” me on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sparkers.soapbox or follow me on Twitter @SparkersSoapbox.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

School Board and Superintendent evaluations on agenda for June 9 meeting

At Tuesday’s School Board meeting, the Board’s annual self-evaluation and evaluation of the Superintendent will be presented and discussed.

I’m not surprised that the Board’s self-evaluation took a terrible turn this year, reflecting senior Board members’ frustrations with the behavior of the two new Board members both at and outside of Board meetings, and new Board members' frustrations with their new peers.

Unexpectedly, however, the Board’s evaluation of the Superintendent showed significant improvement over last year’s. This was the case even though when there was lack of unanimity, the new Board members' ratings were always the lowest.

In this post, I’ll share how the evaluation process works, with links to relevant materials so you can dig into them yourself. I’ll also share my observations of both evaluations and my concerns about their implications. As always, I urge you to let our elected Board members hear from you on these matters, either by email or in person, before they vote on the evaluations at Tuesday’s meeting.

The Board’s Self-Evaluation

The Board has been using the same evaluation instrument for the past six years. Areas covered include Board/Superintendent relationship, governance, policy-making, Board members’ conduct during and after Board meetings, and community/stakeholder relationship. Each Board member is asked to rate the Board on 34 indicators using a five-point scale (Strongly Agree, Agree, Neutral, Disagree and Strongly Disagree).

For the 2014–15 year, all 34 indicators moved in a negative direction compared to the prior year, meaning the Board views itself as less effective this year than last on every metric. Even more telling, all five board members rated the Board’s performance favorably in just four of the 34 indicators. It rated its performance unfavorably in 30 of the 34 indicators.

The worst ratings numerically were on these indicators:

#7 - The School Board and the Superintendent work together to create a climate of good faith and goodwill through team work and clear communication.

Mrs. Curatolo commented that “While the special meeting helped move us in this direction, we [are far] from a highly functioning board. Political agendas, lack of trust, and clearly pushing agendas which are not in the best interest of all students block us from high-level functioning….”

#11 - The School Board plans and conducts meetings in a businesslike manner, following accepted parliamentary procedures.

Mr. Terry commented, that “You never know what direction the meeting will take. We can take hours discussing procedural issues that had already been decided at a previous meeting. Example, when the public can speak.”

#14 - The School Board and the Superintendent work well together in a spirit of mutual trust and confidence.

Mr. Terry commented that “The lack of trust by a few Board members in the Superintendent and the rest of the Board is a problem. This causes a large amount of extra work for the Superintendent and her staff.”

And by far the worst rating (2.0 Disagree):

#17 - “Once a decision is made, all School Board members work together to support and implement the decision.”

Mr. Terry commented that while the District has no opt out of testing policy, “one Board member informed people how to opt out of testing.”

This is a TERRIBLE result. And the last year’s self-evaluation wasn’t much better. Comparing the 2013–14 to the 2012–13 indicators, only three of the 34 indicators moved in a positive direction, 17 were unchanged and 14 got worse.

Our school district nearly lost its accreditation in 2007 due to Board behavior and how it operated as a governing board. According to the Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce at the time, in an article titled “School Accreditation: What It Means for Collier County":

To be blunt, graduation from a school system that loses accreditation means the students’ high school diplomas are – in a word – worthless. And if those kinds of penalties aren’t enough, history has shown an entire community can be thrown into chaos by the loss of its schools’ accreditation. Students jam adjoining counties’ schools, entire families relocate to other parts of the country, property values plummet, federal and state financial support dries up." 

The accreditation team at the time recommended that the District do a self-evaluation of its performance as a governing body, develop an in-house effectiveness training program with the specific objective of improving its ability to work as a governing body, and complete a comprehensive external review of its policies. It did so, and worked very hard over the next two years to get the “warned” status cleared.

And now look where we are.

Elections have consequences - even ones with very low voter turnout. We community members should be very concerned, both about the dysfunction reflected by this year’s evaluation, and by the negative trend.

We need to let those whose behavior we aren’t happy with know that we expect better.

The Superintendent’s Evaluation 

The Superintendent’s employment contract requires an annual evaluation based on goals agreed upon by the Board and Superintendent at the beginning of each school year.

The Superintendent’s evaluation is in two parts:

Each of the Superintendent’s performance objectives and professional standards is rated by each Board member on a four-point scale. The ratings of the five Board members are averaged, and then the combined rating on each part is weighted 50% so that the Superintendent’s overall rating is the average of the ratings of the two parts. An overall rating of 2.4 or above is Satisfactory; 2.3 or below is Unsatisfactory.

For the 2014–15 year, the Superintendent’s rating is 3.69, a significant improvement over the 2013–14 year of 3.24, which had been adversely affected by the ratings of former Board member Pat Carroll. For the 2012–13 year, the Superintendent’s rating was 3.78.

In the current year evaluation, all five Board members said the Superintendent completely met 31 of her 38 performance objectives, and completely or mostly met four. Two were linked to statewide tests for which results were not available.

Ratings on the 20 professional standards were more disparate, with the new Board members responsible for all the “needs improvement” and “not acceptable ratings.” Specifically, on “Demonstrates tact and diplomacy in working with individuals and groups,” and “Responds appropriately when faced with unforeseen events,” Lichter’s rating was the lowest possible: “not acceptable." On the latter, Donalds’ rating was "needs improvement," though Donalds agreed with the other three Board members in giving an excellent rating to "Demonstrates tact and diplomacy."

It is the Board’s responsibility to set measurable performance objectives for the Superintendent, and I’m pleased with the near-unanimity of the Board’s ratings on these measures.

However I’m concerned about the divergent ratings on the professional standards metrics, and disappointed that specific examples of those situations where Ms. Lichter and Ms. Donalds said the Superintendent’s performance “needs improvement” or is “not acceptable” were not provided with the evaluation posted online. Hopefully they were provided to the Superintendent in writing.

Tuesday’s Board Meeting

The business portion of the Board meeting begins at 5:30 pm this Tuesday, June 9. View the agenda here.

There are three opportunities for public comments, all at the beginning of the meeting before staff presentations or Board discussions:

  1. To address any item on the Consent Agenda (Agenda Items 7 - 84);
  2. To address anything not of the agenda, under General Public Comments (Agenda Item 86); and
  3. To address a specific agenda item, e.g. Board Self-Evaluation (Item 91) or Superintendent Evaluation (Item 92)

If you wish to speak, you must register before the meeting begins, indicating which agenda item you wish to address or if you have a general comment. You may do so online five hours before each meeting, or in person at the meeting.

If you are unable to attend the meeting but want to give comments to the Board and/or Superintendent, you can email them:

Kathleen Curatolo - curatoka@collierschools.com
Erika Donaolds - donale@collierschools.com
Kelly Lichter - lichteke@collierschools.com
Julie Sprague - spraguju@collierschools.com
Roy Terry - terryro@collierschools.com
Superintendent Kamela Patton - Patton@collierschools.com

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