Criteria eyed for schools' director

Friday, October 3, 2008

Marshall County's School Board spent most of its two-hour special called meeting on Monday discussing how to measure the performance of its director of schools.

The Board plans to assess Dr. Stan Curtis' performance annually, starting after he has been in office for one year. That's in April 2009.

Curtis brought in a sample of the performance contract the school principals have been signing. Among other things, each principal agrees to improve their school's performance goals and value-added performance.

Curtis could be asked to make the same improvements for the county as a whole, and his performance could be measured by the degree to which he succeeds.

Board Chairwoman Ann Tears had drafted a sample performance assessment that she distributed to board members. They agreed to study it at home, and Tears, with board members Craig Michael and Curt Denton, formed a sub-committee to review it and develop something for presentation to the whole board at its next meeting.

The school board agreed that Curtis needs some specific benchmarks when measuring his performance.

Especially important is meeting financial goals so that next year's - and the next five years' - budgets can be planned well in advance.

The group diverted from the topic of measuring Curtis' performance to measuring the performance of the school district as a whole.

Marshall County is not on the state's "Target" list for increased scrutiny yet, but, as Curtis said, "You can look good on paper and you're not doing too well."

"We could have been targeted very easily," he concluded.

Next year, Marshall County High School will be on the target list because they missed the graduation rate goal by two-tenth of a percent. This was caused by 17 students dropping out.

"You can almost tell in the first years of testing who's going to drop out," said Curtis, adding that an extra social worker may help reverse this trend.

Measurement of the school system's performance is complicated by the fact that next year the standards are all going to change with the introduction of the Tennessee Diploma Project.

"That's a tough transition," Curtis said. A teacher who was the only person in the audience said in eighth grade next year she would be taking on topics she had never taught before.

Gold said she feared that the teachers would not be prepared to teach the new standard well, but Curtis said by next year they would be ready, though it is a "huge strategic issue" whether they teach to the new standard or the old standard this year. If they teach to the new standard while the pupils are still tested on the old standard, they risk a big drop in test scores, but if they stay with the old standards, it will be harder to make the transition next year.

Marshall County is not alone in wrestling with this decision. "Every district in the state is trying to balance this now," Curtis told the board.