ID of Curtis graders' kept secret

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Most of Marshall County's School Board members marked schools director Stan Curtis poorly on evaluation forms they completed privately last month to rate his first year in office.

Last month, evaluation forms were sent to school board members' homes. The evaluation forms, mailed to school headquarters anonymously, were opened and the scores tallied by the evaluation committee at its meeting Monday night.

One board member gave Curtis the best possible score in every category, for a total of 80. Two others gave him an 18.5, perilously close to the lowest possible score of 15.5, not zero. The other scores were: 20, 36.5, 38, 42, 44, and 61.5.

"He's in the middle of the next to last quartile," evaluation committee member Craig Michael explained. "I don't see how that can be other than unacceptable."

The committee had not announced a failing grade, and no mention was made of terminating Curtis' employment as director because of his low rating.

"I think it's amazing," said Marshall County resident Josh Hinerman, who attended the meeting. "At Lowe's, where I work, a store manager would be terminated if he got an evaluation like that," said Hinerman, who started as a bus driver in Marshall County when John David Pierce was director of schools.

"We were scared to death of Pierce," Hinerman said. "If we give Curtis free rein, we'll have a repeat of that."

After the committee added the director's scores and read the comments that some board members wrote anonymously on their papers, Curtis was called in to the boardroom to hear the results.

"Obviously there's some room for improvement," he said when his scores were announced. "You're hoping people are more pleased."

Chairwoman Ann Tears asked, "You understand what your rating is?"

"Yes," Curtis replied. "I'm actually below George Bush."

Curtis will have an opportunity to respond in writing to the evaluation, though he said it would be "pretty tough" to get this done in time for Thursday's board meeting.

"I want to make sure we have a plan to address concerns," he said. "If there's one area where several members have the same issue, that's what we want to address first. I have to do better, whatever it is."

"The underlying thing is poor communication," Michael said. "There's a lot of criticism there, especially about lack of response to questions."

Some of the anonymous comments in the evaluation pertaining to school board relations were: Very poor communication skills; unacceptable; and alienated. In community relations, the only bright spot was the hit Curtis made when talking to the business community.

"Confuses the public," and "as poor as relations with the board" were two of the comments.

His lack of participation in local civic groups was noted on evaluation forms, as was his absence from sporting events.

The business and finance portion of the evaluation was where Curtis scored best, rating 50.6 percent. Even there he drew the adverse comment, "has not spent wisely in transportation and maintenance," though this was balanced by "has concentrated spending on what will improve education for the students."

The committee was set to meet again Tuesday afternoon to prepare a written summary of the evaluation for Curtis. Before adjourning Monday night, they agreed to encourage Curtis to be more "open, honest and accurate" in his communications with the board, and to think about making himself "more visible" in the community.

"You've got to give him a little leeway," urged Tears. "I don't want to be too hard. He has to know what we want."

"He has to know what he wants," countered Michael. "Somebody's got to know and it needs to start with the director."