As school boards start making annual evaluations of superintendents, they share a frustration: “I wish we had better records!” Lacking sound records, they go on scavenger hunts: “Was it this year or last that she spoke in Washington? Would we have an email that mentions it? Let’s search our email inboxes to see if some reference is still there. If so, we’ll get the date!” If the entire board regularly deletes emails and does not file important ones, there is nothing to search. If they do file important emails, there still may be nothing to search; who files as “important” an email with a casual reference to someone else’s travel plans? Software with strong reporting features can stop the madness.
Looking at that Washington conference, what could have prevented the wild goose chase that ended in failure? First, the board (desperately!) needs a comprehensive record of the superintendent’s activities for a given year. The resulting list, though, might fill hundreds of pages. Someone will have to go through it with a fine-tooth comb to identify relevant activities. Relevant to what? To the strategic goals of the board. The ideal tool would track not only what the superintendent accomplished in the past year, but also how each of her actions contributed to the mission of the district.
Attaining such a record eludes the best of boards. As we scramble to paste together a paper trail of the year, we manage to find only a fraction of the superintendent’s work. Did she spend a day in May visiting kindergarten classes to bolster student engagement? What are the chances that anyone will remember each such moment from someone else’s calendar over 365 days? Considering that the board does not work near the superintendent, there’s a good chance that many – even most - such gestures flew under the radar entirely. Even if it were possible to reconstruct a complete list, how could the board discern the importance of the superintendent’s many achievements?
Software can provide exactly what the board needs: both the complete snapshot of work accomplished and the sorting according to goals. Better yet, making a couple of confident keystrokes takes seconds, while going through the mad dash to create a far inferior accounting takes several frantic weeks. The secret is a software function for tracking goals. Here’s how it works.
As the superintendent goes about her business, she enters, at the end of each day, a log of her work. After a couple of hours of training, she knows how to enter it in such a way that the computer can instantly convert each project into a fraction of the tasks needed to make measurable progress toward each strategic goal identified for that year.
Such apparent magic is possible through a sleek system. After the board establishes its strategic plan at its annual retreat, the software prompts the chair to identify all of the tasks needed to achieve each goal. For instance, in our example, “increasing student engagement” is one such goal. Prompted by the software, at the start of the year, the chairperson breaks that objective down into specific measurable steps needed to reach the goal:
1. Add four more visits from adults other than teachers to every classroom.
2. Host two parties that bring together students, parents and teachers in a social context.
3. Give every student in every grade one area of responsibility in the classroom (e.g., turning the lights off, checking the supply of markers or chalk, or erasing the board).
Assuming each of these three tasks is weighted equally, fulfillment of any of them constitutes 33.33% of the progress toward reaching the goal of student engagement.
Day by day, the superintendent enters her records of how she spent her time. The software sorts each task by goal and then calculates how each of the superintendent’s activities contributes measurably to reaching each goal. Above, when the superintendent visited four kindergarten classes in the district, she would enter that into her log in five minutes at the end of the day. The computer would make the following calculation:
Each classroom visit by an adult other than a teacher =
Number of class sessions attended (4)
Total number of K–12 class sessions in the district (say 100).
The amount that the classroom visits overall contribute to the greater goal of increasing student engagement (here, 33.33%)
The day with four visits to kindergarten classrooms is seen to bring the district [4% X 33.33%] – 1.33% closer to fulfilling all the work required to improve student engagement.
The software takes such information, does the math, and presents an attractive graphical representation of progress made toward reaching each goal; it may be in the form of a bar graph, say, or a thermometer. Throughout the year, any board member can quickly access a visual display of how far the district has come toward meeting each of its goals. The information from the superintendent would make the bar on the graph for “increase student engagement” extend by 1.33%.
The software continues recording, sorting and quantifying the information from time logs every day of the year. When it comes time to write the superintendent’s evaluation, anyone on the board can log on and see the measurement of results. (Some goals will reflect contributions made by other employees of the district. It’s easy to click and see a breakdown of who-did-what.) They can see which goals were reached and which were not. An at-a-glance dashboard provides the snapshot that is needed. All of the work of the entire year is included, nothing is lost and all of the information is quantified in terms of how much it brought the district closer to reaching its goals.
Boards must assess every year if the superintendent “did her job well.” Software with a sophisticated goal-tracking capacity provides the precise information that is required. Rather than pore over unorganized and incomplete records, the board can create a reflective and informed assessment.