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Performance Assessment: Interview with Steve Robinson

Posted by Grace Lee on Jun 23, 2013 2:07:00 PM

I had the privilege of interviewing Dr. Steve Robinson, President of the Southern Association of Independent Schools (SAIS), regarding his experience with performance evaluation and a recent blog post he published, The Head Evaluation, Assessing Constructs. Steve served as the head of a few schools and has provided outstanding leadership for SAIS. His work with school boards nationally and internationally makes him a unique expert on this topic. 



Key Points:

  • Boards consistently seek better solutions to performance evaluation and they should follow the best practices that are available.
  • The important thing is that the performance evaluation focuses on things that are pertinent or relevant to the chief's job and does not drift off to peripheral kinds of discussions and ideas. The review process needs to be very focused, it needs to be intentional, and it needs to be built on clearly established expectations regarding what is supposed to be accomplished.
  • Ultimately the board has to fulfill its primary role to hire, support, evaluate, and when necessary terminate the head. It should not be something that they walk into and do on the spur of the moment. A carefully structure plan should be established for what the evaluation is going to look like, how relevant data will be collected, and how results will be communicated.
  • There is no person on this Earth that could be fully liked by everyone. It’s not an issue if one of the board member’s doesn’t really like the chief's personality because that’s not what the board should be assessing. Evaluate the effectiveness of the chief administrator based on the constructs that have been established and evaluate on those points only.
  • The only entity that evaluates the head should be the board. Teachers don’t evaluate the head, parents don’t evaluate the head, the board alone evaluates the head. 
  • I have never seen an excellent school that doesn’t have an excellent Board. You can see some schools that become good in spite of a Board that’s not excellent. Excellence is usually accomplished by a board that is well trained, understands their role, and recognize they only have authority when they act as a full Board. The excellent board has selected a chair who really understands board leadership and effectively communicates and builds relationship with the chief. 
  • I recommend to boards that they reconsider two year or less board chair tenures in favor of longer terms for the chair because those relationships don’t develop immediately. Even though one has been on the board and knows the head and has interacted with the head, it becomes a different kind of relationship as the chair, where you are meeting on a regular basis, you’re the first person the head calls to FYI on something that they’re doing and those kind of things. My personal opinion is it should be a 3 year term at minimum and maybe 5 years but again, 
  • An average size of the school board is around 17 or 18. Boards can range between 5 and 35, maybe even larger than that. More than size, it’s really about the makeup of the Board, who is on the Board and does each Board member understand their role and the appropriate role that they bring to the Board. Recommended size is not more than 20 and not less than 10. 
  • Boards are finally coming to grips with Sarbanes-Oxley, where the federal government got involved in regulating how companies operate. What has happened over the past 11 years since this legislation was implemented is that Sarbanes-Oxley has become a de facto standard for non-profits in the courts. With that in mind, there are some things that Boards need greater attention. For example, separation on management and governance, whistle blower policies, and conflict of interest policies are all very important
  • The school board is not representative governance--they don’t represent stake holders outside of the board. They don’t represent parents and student, and for sure they do not represent their own family’s interest because that is one of the things that hurts schools very much. 
  • The fiduciary role of the board is one of the highest expectations that can be placed on someone to look after others' good and after a trust. You don’t get on a board to come in and see what you can get done or what you can fix for your child or all of the parents that are in your social club. Your sole focus is on what is best for the school. You are a fiduciary. 
  • Being a member of a board is not only a privilege but a responsibility as well. The best boards are taking that seriously and understanding that fiduciary responsibility and really being proactive in building that relationship with the chief and with each other to build a great board culture. 
  • It’s hard to achieve school growth without having a board that is committed to being a learning organization and be their best.

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