HARVARD - It can be hard to judge one's own performance. The voters have their say at the ballot box. Still, the Harvard School Committee, school superintendent, finance director, and central office administrative assistant released it's blended 'self evaluation instrument' at the committee's March 11 meeting.
Participants graded the committee's collective performance in seven areas: governance, member relations, committee/superintendent relations, community relations, conduct of meetings, student achievement, and outcomes (attainment of goals).
Committee and staff members used a five point scale for grading performance: 0 for answers where no rating was entered (with a 0 score not used to determine the average answer for any given question), 1 for unsatisfactory, 2 for needs improvement, 3 for proficient, and 4 for exemplary performance.
There were some 0 scores entered in areas where participants stepped back or recused themselves from answering in particular areas (ex. The staff members abstained or entered '0' in areas which didn't directly pertain to their roles supporting the committee). On average, the scores hovered around the '3' mark, indicating an overall mood that the committee believes its performance is proficient.
Strongest overall scores were in the areas of member (inter committee) relations and committee/superintendent relations where the overall average scores were each 3.63. Next was the realm of community relations, where the board ranked its performance overall as 3.47.
In terms of conduct of meetings, the committee graded itself as 3.2 overall, and outcomes/goal attainment at 3.12. Governance clocked a 3.05 overall score. The only category not to break the proficient threshold was in the area of student achievement, where the overall blended committee score was 2.92, or marginally in the 'needs improvement' category.
Committee Chair SusanMary Redinger said the ratings were "very similar" to last year's results. The governance score slipped slightly to 3.05, down from 3.12 the prior year. She suggested an area of improvement could be participation in more educational workshops "to help the committee make informed decisions." She noted, however, that the committee was well represented at the annual conference hosted by the Massachusetts Association of School Committees (MASC).
Member relations nosed down slightly from 3.69 to 3.63. "Overall it indicates for me that we have a good working relationship with people pretty much across the board," said Redinger. The committee and staff entered scores of 3's and 4's across the board in this category.
The score on relations with the superintendent fell slightly from 3.78 to 3.63. Community relations have "obviously some room for improvement" though that score climbed from 3.26 last year to 3.47 this year.
The blended score regarding meeting conduct dropped. Last year the committee graded its performance as 3.36. This year the grade fell to 3.2 overall.
Redinger said the "overcrowded agenda" is to blame for some of the dip. "Not a surprise there," she said. Redinger noted, however, that this school year was an "extraordinarily packed year of mandates and with what we're taking on."
On approach to retool meetings may be thinning-out future agendas. Perhaps off-cycle, Friday morning meetings could be set aside for "routine administrative stuff," suggested committee member Keith Cheveralls. "[Like] things with low public interest. It's something to keep in the back of our collective minds."
The committee's lowest collective score came in the category of student achievement - up this year to 2.92 from last year's 2.87 score. "On one hand, I agree with Joe," said Redinger. "We are hard on ourselves in this area."
On the other hand, Redinger said perhaps the committee doesn't spend "sufficient time talking about student achievement." Redinger said the committee could spend more time analyzing this area, but noted that the committee's indirect purview over student achievement is limited to "budget and policy" matters only.
Don't beat yourselves up, said Connelly. "As a school committee, you're much more involved in putting the curriculum in the public eye than you take credit for." In addition to highlighting student achievement, Connelly suggested there could be added presentation time set aside for teachers "to help put in the public eye the instructional activities taking place in the schools."
Redinger said she'd also like more feedback on the effectiveness of professional development offerings on student achievement. "We approve those early release days" at the request of the Professional Development Committee, said Redinger. While the PD Committee advises the school committee on its planned offerings "we don't have a chance to weigh in on it," said Redinger. "I'd like to hear back... we send it off but I don't know how effective it is."
Cheveralls agreed, "That's the missing quotient. I want to know how it's making a difference." Connelly said he'd provide more detail on the planned offerings for the summer and coming school year.
Cheveralls recalled the work of former school committee member Piali De and her drive for data to quantify student achievement. "It's a very rich subject - what do you mean by student achievement beyond how kids are doing on the test." While the committee cannot "jump in and micromanage," Cheveralls said the shared goal remains "graduating students."
Redinger said the committee's 3.12 blended score in terms of committee outcomes this year was likely tainted by the "less than successful superintendent search." Despite winnowing a field of candidates down to three finalists, all three finalists withdrew from consideration over the winter. The committee opted to retain Connelly as the district's interim superintendent for a third school year while restarting the process.
Committee member Patty Wenger said she also sent in accompanying commentary and suggestions, which apparently was not likewise done by the other four committee members. "I think I got a different memo than everyone else," said Wenger. "I took this as opportunity to bring up suggestions - positive and negative."
"The more the better," said Redinger. Suggestions "are the only way we can improve." Redinger called Wenger's commentary "extremely valuable... Feedback matters. It's the only way to learn."
Cheveralls said the details are all public record. "Can it be better?" asked Cheveralls rhetorically. "Yes, the process can always be better."
Whether someone's elected on a local or national level, "the temptation is to tell everyone how great you are," said Cheveralls. The self evaluation instrument is helpful to look at the committee's operation from within, he surmised. "Are we perfect at it? No, but for two years running now we're building up a sense at how a good, functioning committee looks at itself."
Follow Mary Arata at twitter.com/maryearata.