Grading Tri-State superintendents: Most annual evaluations are positive, some can't be found

Expert: not enough 'effective accountability' systems in many school districts
Winton Woods City Schools
Posted at 9:35 PM, May 11, 2023

CINCINNATI — Anthony Smith has been the Winton Woods City Schools superintendent for nearly a decade, but the district and its board of education could only find one of his completed annual evaluations for the last six school years, according to district officials.

And that evaluation — for the 2020-21 school — was only one page.

"Mr. Smith has successfully completed the mutually agreed-upon goals for the 2020-21 school year as outlined in the goals section," according to the evaluation. "In addition to the completion of the above goals, Mr. Smith expanded our partnership with Mercy Health to provide students, families, and residents of our community Covid vaccinations free of charge. As we move into the new school year, we look forward to working with Mr. Smith to safely lead us through the next school 2021-22 School year."

That's it.

"Our policy or administrative guidelines do not define the process or who should be caretaker of these documents," Winton Woods City Schools Board of Education President Paula Kuhn wrote in an email response to the I-Team's questions. "The district and the Board will review its policies and procedures regarding how these records are maintained by the district going forward."

Ohio state statute requires school boards to adopt procedures for the evaluation of their superintendents and evaluate them based on those rules. They are not required to put the evaluation in writing and share it with the public.

Kentucky law requires boards of education to document an annual evaluation of their superintendent.

The I-Team requested the annual evaluations for nearly 30 local school superintendents in Ohio and Kentucky.

In addition to Winton Woods, Princeton, Mason City and Franklin City Schools confirmed they don't have written superintendent evaluations for the previous school year. The Mariemont and Lawrenceburg school districts did not respond to our requests.

Former Ohio Superintendent of Public Instruction Deb Delisle
Former Ohio Superintendent of Public Instruction Deb Delisle

"There's just not enough emphasis placed upon effective accountability systems in school districts," All4Ed CEO and President Deb Delisle said.

All4Ed is a nonprofit education advocacy group. Delisle was Ohio's superintendent of public instruction when the state published current guidelines for superintendent evaluations.

"I'm disappointed that more districts do not focus on the fact that this is a total accountability piece for the community," Delisle said.

Nearly all superintendents met or exceeded the goals and standards set for them, according to their evaluations.

The superintendents for Fort Thomas, Beechwood, Batavia, Southgate, Ludlow, Norwood and Fairfield City Schools received the highest ratings, according to the evaluations.

"Truly amazing results for our students to improve in 10/13 areas is beyond great," according to the 2021-22 evaluation of Fairfield City Superintendent Billy Smith. "The implementation of Torch Prep has also been fruitful with 76% of students showing an increase in their ACT scores."

Most evaluations failed to reference metrics used to determine if the superintendents met their targets. Many evaluations didn't rate the superintendents.

The documents show boards frequently failed to provide recommendations or specific direction in every category in the evaluations.

"This may be a wake-up call for them," Cheryl Ryan said.

Ryan, director of board and management services for the Ohio School Boards Association, said the evaluations of superintendents are an important part of the Board's role.

"Boards that do a good job with it generally do a good job with governance," Ryan said.

Ryan said some board members feel unqualified and intimidated about evaluating the superintendent and, according to Ryan, they're often reluctant to criticize the superintendent in a written evaluation that's a public document.

The I-Team reviewed more than 100 pages of board of education meeting minutes and watched hours of meetings, but we saw only one resident ask questions about a superintendent's evaluation.

At a Northwest Local School District Board of Education meeting in February, Rich McVay told the board their evaluation of Superintendent Darrell Yater failed to meet basic standards for an evaluation.

Rich McVay
Rich McVay

"I know what a good evaluation is and is not," retired Procter & Gamble manager Rich McVay said. "They lacked a focus. They lacked a priority. And they weren't clear about consequences. And importantly, they had no measurable data."

It was also the most critical superintendent evaluation the I-Team reviewed.

Yater was rated 'developing' in five out of six categories.

In his self-evaluation, Yater provided a long list of accomplishments, including establishing programs and setting goals that are monitored for progress.

But McVay said the board's evaluation didn't focus on how Yater did at accomplishing things that can be measured, including academic performance.

"So that was a clear miss," McVay said. "We're not doing well academically and we're not pointing it out."

Northwest Local School District Superintendent Darrell Yater
Northwest Local School District Superintendent Darrell Yater

Instead, Yater's evaluation describes him as "very professional" and an "amazing" wordsmith and public speaker.

It also mentions the "very low" morale of the district, the failure to pass a levy and an incomplete grant application that cost the district money. The board described that mistake as a "near terminable offense."

Yater and Board President Nicole Taulbee did not respond to our requests for comment.

The I-Team didn't request evaluations for current superintendents who haven't completed at least one full school year.

The Cincinnati Public Schools Board of Education hired Iranetta Wright as superintendent in May 2022. Since this is her first full school year at CPS, Wright doesn't have an annual evaluation.

Cincinnati Public Schools Superintendent Iranetta Wright
Cincinnati Public Schools Superintendent Iranetta Wright

So, the I-Team requested a copy of her mid-year evaluation.

But that doesn't exist, according to the Board.

In fact, even though the school year is almost over, the board is still "monitoring" progress for Wright's mid-year evaluation, Board President Ben Lindy said during a Board meeting on Monday.

The mid-year progress report doesn't have targets for the 2022-23 school year. The first targets are in the 2023-24 school year, according to the document.

Lindy didn't respond to the I-Team's requests for comment.

"Parents are wanting to hold someone accountable, but they don't even know how," Teasha Tennyson said. "If evaluations aren't done and we don't have any answers, why would we trust them?"

Teasha Tennyson
Teasha Tennyson

Tennyson said her son, 7-year-old Elijah, is a CPS first-grader. She said "inconsistent" services and what she described as a lack of transparency and accountability at the highest levels of CPS have hurt Elijah's education.

"It is frustrating," she said.

On Monday, Lindy said the monitoring for Wright's mid-year evaluation was going "well."

So well, the board decided to wait until later this summer to complete Wright's mid-year evaluation.

For Teasha Tennyson, the superintendent's written evaluation is an important report card to share with the public as soon as possible. She hopes it's finished soon.

"All we can do is hope," Tennyson said.

2021-2022 Superintendent Evaluations:

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