School board defends unsigned evaluations

Thursday, July 9, 2009

The Marshall County school system on Wednesday released board members' comments about the system director's performance and some board members defended the practice of filing unsigned evaluations.

Chairwoman Ann Tears, in her third term on the school board, said director's evaluations are traditionally anonymous in Marshall County. "I think you get a better response (when it's anonymous)," she said. Later, when challenged whether evaluations could legally be anonymous, Tears said, "I don't have a comment."

"The board is a collective body," said board member Craig Michael. "It's not about individuals. Collectively the board is one. It (anonymity) helps keep it more honest."

When asked about the un-signed responses, director of schools Stan Curtis said, "That's unusual, but it's the board's prerogative."

Directors' evaluations vary across the state.

Rebecca Sharber, current director of schools for Franklin County, and past director in Williamson County, said in a telephone interview, "They have to do that in the sunshine...they have to sign them. People have to be able to know how each board member voted. They (the forms) have to be available to the public."

Ed Gray, in his fifth year as superintendent of Bedford County schools, said that the school board members do not sign the annual evaluations they make of his performance.

"In Bedford County we have a super school board," Gray said. "They all get along together, and they're all in the kid business."

Not all the board members wrote comments on their evaluation forms, and not all of the comments were unfavorable. The member who gave Curtis a perfect score did not back it up with any comments.

The one who gave the second-highest score, 61.5, wrote. "Dr. Curtis seems to be trying to put academics first" and complimented him on the way interventions are in place and A+ software is in use.

The board member who gave the third-highest score, 44, was the most complementary, calling his first year "a learning period," and concluding, "I believe Dr. Curtis has done more to accomplish the educational goals and excellence of this system within the past year than this system has experienced under previous administrations." That member also noted that Curtis has "concentrated spending on that which will improve education and benefit students."

Several praised Curtis' choice of Lyn Stacey as testing coordinator.

Adverse comments included: "board relationship is unacceptable," "you have alienated yourself from the board and tried to do the same with teachers," "evaluations misused," "lack of drive to want to work with the commission," and "the only image most people have is you in those dumb non-professional Hawaiian shirts."

Many comments related to the quality of Curtis' communication with the board and community. "Appears to intentionally keep board un-informed," "frequently changes his story," "does not respond to e-mails," "never follows up," and "confuses public" were some of the statements board members wrote.

The director's evaluation committee continued their work Tuesday night by discussing examples of unsatisfactory job performance by the director of schools. They gathered again early this morning to agree on what improvements to suggest he can make.

Their work is mandated by Curtis' contract, which states that if his performance is unsatisfactory in any respect, the school board shall describe the specific instances to him in writing, as well as making recommendations for improvement in these areas.

"We need to help him not make those mistakes," said Michael about Curtis' failures to communicate with the board in an "open, honest and accurate" fashion. "It's a thought process he doesn't seem to understand."

"It's not something personal," Michael added. "I'm not the only one it happens to."

"We all make mistakes," Tears said. "Everybody doesn't do everything right all the time. He needs to re-build trust with the board members. What would it take for you to feel confident again -- or will you ever?"

"Probably not," Michael said.

"Somebody's got to trust again."

"Trust has to be earned," asserted Michael. "People can disagree if they respect and trust each other."