By Gil, Libia S. | Leadership, May 2001 | Go to article overview
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Gil, Libia S., Leadership

In Chula Vista, educators replaced an evaluation system that had little relevance to principals' leadership performance with peer group evaluations.

In the fall of 1993, as the new superintendent of the Chula Vista Elementary School District, I conducted an individual assessment of the organization with each of the district's 32 principals. Discussions on strengths and areas needing change immediately surfaced the issue of the principals' evaluation process as a priority concern.

The principals described their process as a "dog-and-pony show" with little or no relevance to their leadership performance and impact on student achievement. Principals believed they were jumping through hoops just to please central office administrators. Some were convinced that the criteria for judging effectiveness included the length and weight of documents provided. A few principals candidly admitted that they fabricated observation data for submission to their supervisors. Recording activities and keeping track of participation in events took on its own special value, since little attempt was made to connect these activities to outcomes.

During the 1993-1994 school year, a principal task force was established to review the literature and to research evaluation models. At the rime, we found a few interesting evaluation processes and instruments (Louisville, Ky.; Seattle and Vancouver, Wash.) and identified various components to incorporate into our own.

We agreed that the primary purpose of an evaluation process is to promote professional growth and personal development. In order to create a meaningful process, the importance of ongoing and open communication was emphasized.

In addition, we agreed that multiple assessments and longitudinal data on performance indicators needed to apply to adults as well as students. It should be noted that regular surveys of the community, parents, staff and students are conducted, feedback is taken seriously and is incorporated into improvement actions. Longitudinal student achievement data on multiple assessments as well as attendance rates and other school profile data are also reviewed with stakeholders in the feedback process. This shifts the focus by looking at necessary leadership action and the impact on students, in contrast to simply recording activities for compliance purposes.

Initial procedures

Beginning with the 1994-1995 school year, all principals reported directly to the superintendent. Peer groups consisting of four to seven members were formed through a process of self-selection. An expectation was set for monthly peer meetings throughout the school year. Each principal had a fall conference with the superintendent, followed by group goal-setting sessions. The peer group selected a common focus based on predetermined criterion. (Each peer group used performance indicators in professional growth, school improvement, evaluation of school personnel, management, communication and community relations.)

Peer groups identified individuals to be evaluated on a two-year rotation cycle, with the exception of new principals, who were evaluated annually for a three-year probation period.

The peer groups used an array of approaches to observe, learn and provide support and feedback to each other. These included classroom observations, analysis of student work, formal interviews with key staff and parent leaders as well as problem-solving and idea exchanges on best practices. Peer sessions also provide a measure of catharsis.

Throughout the process, confidentiality on individual issues or concerns is maintained between the principal and superintendent, unless the principal chooses to divulge information to his/her peers. Peer group evaluations do not supercede the superintendent's responsibility to hold individuals accountable for their leadership performance and to implement plans for assistance or improvement when necessary.

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