This past week, the Worcester School Committee began work on its inaugural  “End-of-Cycle Summative Evaluation Report” – a comprehensive evaluation of its Superintendent of Schools. The process is meticulous and precise, but, when conducted thoroughly, thoughtfully and meticulously by the Committee, it provides beneficial feedback to the Superintendent. It is a duty assigned by law to the Committee, and – together with the Committee’s responsibilities for hiring certain key personnel, for approving a budget, and for establishing policy – it is central to the Committee’s oversight of the Worcester Public Schools (“WPS”) and of Worcester children.

The process is more formalized – and standardized – now than in the past. In 2012, the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (“DESE”) developed a Guide to Rubrics and Model Rubrics for Superintendent, Administrator, and Teacher, and it updated and revised those rubrics in December 2015, “to reflect new resources to support effective implementation.”

The evaluation process is based on a “5-Step Evaluation Cycle.” The Cycle begins with a self-assessment by the Superintendent, used “to identify areas of strength as well as areas requiring further development.” Second, the Superintendent and School Committee agree on the topics which will be the focus of school district initiative during the following year, and they “develop goals for improving professional practice and student learning.” The goals are required to be “specific, measurable, and actionable.” The goals should “include at least one goal for each category: professional practice, student learning, and district improvement.”  

In Worcester this year, the Superintendent’s “professional practice goal” has been to complete “all expectations required in the first year of the New Superintendent’s Induction Program”, which is a three-year program, operated by the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents in collaboration with DESE. The program utilizes “successful former superintendents to coach new superintendents … through a series of [eight] cohort-based, day-long workshops.”  

Her “student learning goal” has been to “identify and provide strategic intervention for all third, sixth, and tenth grade students that are at high risk and not meeting expectations for math and reading performance as measured by accountability standards.” Here, the WPS has implemented a wide variety of programs focused on the needs of its most academically challenged students at these grade levels. Elementary students are seeing “differentiated whole and small group instruction as needed in reading, writing and mathematics,” together with tutoring, specialized district-wide common assessments in mathematics, and, in the Burncoat “quadrant” of schools, “strategy instruction for responding to complex text.” A number of curricular programs are utilized to address the needs of these students as well. Teachers collaborate in teams to develop lessons, to review student work, and to analyze assessment data as to the success of their initiatives with the students. Principals meet to share the results of their efforts, and curriculum “coaches” work in groups to spread the most successful practices across the schools of the WPS. The school district also offers varied initiatives in elementary school robotics, in inclusionary practices, in student attendance, and, in middle and high schools, in science clubs. Tenth grade students benefit from MCAS and English language tutoring, PSAT support, advanced placement, and “literacy and numeracy classes”.

The Superintendent has two “district improvement” goals. The first is to “[w]ork collaboratively to create and sustain excellent instruction that improves students’ skills in literacy, critical thinking, collaboration and communication to prepare them for global citizenship.” Here, she seeks to “develop, implement, assess and embed practices/strategies in service to improve student achievement.” A focus on preparation of students for college (advanced placement, PSAT and SAT preparation, “Massachusetts College Application Day”) plays a significant role here. Her second “district improvement goal” is to “[p]rovide a supportive, safe, and orderly learning environment that emphasizes relationships marked by respectful interactions, acceptance, inclusiveness, and our responsibility to one another.”

The evaluation also assesses the performance of the Superintendent as to four “Standards”: instructional leadership, management and operations, family and community engagement, and professional culture. Here, in her own assessment of her progress in this respect, she includes her efforts to combat chronic absenteeism, her appointment of new principals, her outreach to “families, higher education, businesses and community partners to develop and enhance opportunities for all students”, her role at community events, her leadership of current strategic planning initiatives, her attention to professional development, and her focus on Worcester’s “lowest performing” schools. The Superintendent provides her own self-assessment as to the goals and Standards in her End-of-Cycle Progress Report, given to the School Committee last week.

The School Committee will evaluate her on these performance goals as to whether she met or exceeded each of the goals, or whether she made progress toward them. As to the four Standards, the Committee will assess whether her performance during the year was “exemplary,” “proficient”, “needs improvement”, or “unsatisfactory”. DESE sets a high bar as to the Standards. Thus, “[a] rating of Exemplary is reserved for performance on an Indicator or Standard that is of such a high level that it could serve as a model for educators in the school, district, or state. Few educators – superintendents included – are expected to earn Exemplary ratings on more than a handful of indicators.” Similarly, “[p]roficient is the expected, rigorous level of performance for educators. It is a demanding but attainable level of performance for most educators.” “Needs improvement” is “below the requirements of a Standard but is not considered to be Unsatisfactory at this time. Improvement is necessary and expected.” “Unsatisfactory”, of course, is a major warning sign that a superintendent is “significantly underperforming as compared to the expectations. Unsatisfactory performance requires urgent attention.”

Part-way through the past year, the Committee reviewed a report from the Superintendent as to progress made to date, and offered the feedback of its individual members. Now, after studying and considering her End-of-Cycle Progress Report, and in a public meeting, it “completes a performance review and End-of-Cycle Summative Evaluation Report assessing attainment of the goals and the Superintendent’s performance against the standards.” This public meeting takes place on Thursday, December 21.

This evaluation is pivotal to continued progress in the WPS. The Superintendent having prepared a meticulous summary of her progress during the past year, the Committee’s evaluation must be equally detailed and thorough. As DESE noted in its Implementation Guide for Superintendent Evaluation, “a carefully prepared End-of-Cycle Progress Report and thoughtful development of the school committee’s End-of-Cycle Summative Evaluation Report are keys to ensuring that the dream of continuous improvement becomes a reality.”

About Brian O'Connell, Worcester School Committee

Brian O’Connell is a member of the Worcester School Committee. An attorney, he is a graduate of the College of the Holy Cross, and of Harvard Law School. He is the Chief Financial Officer / Business Manager of the Haverhill Public Schools. He is also Secretary of the Board of Trustees of Worcester Academy, Chair of the Audit Committee of the Academy, a member of the Board of Trustees of Anna Maria College, Chair of the Finance and Audit Committee of the College, and Past President and current member of the Board of Directors of the Holy Cross Alumni Association. He is Past President, a Life Member and member of the Resolutions Committee of the Massachusetts Association of School Committees.

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