Schenectady school board member Bernice Rivera on Wednesday called for a new approach to the district's superintendent contract, even as the board unanimously approved a 2-percent raise and one-year extension for Superintendent Larry Spring.
Rivera, who at Wednesday's board meeting said she did “some soul searching” over the latest contract extension, said she hoped going forward the board could tailor the superintendent's annual review to better reflect Schenectady's needs and goals. When she voted in favor of the contract extension, she said she did so “with reservations” and urged her fellow board submerse to “revisit the evaluation and contract process.”
Rivera said the school board uses a generic superintendent evaluation process, but she thinks an evaluation can be designed that accounts specifically for Schenectady's needs and goals.
“It would be great to have an evaluation system that really hones in on those areas we need to improve... that's more customized to our data and our needs,” Rivera said in a phone interview Thursday, outlining where she thinks the evaluation can be improved.
She highlighted a desire to hold the superintendent accountable for improving the district climate and culture by measuring things like how safe and supported students and staff feel about their schools. She also said it was important to examine how well community members' questions and concerns are addressed.
“How safe, how nurtured do the students and staff feel in the school, how supported do they feel?” “Because if you have staff that feels like they are not supported that can trickle down to the whole school.”
School board President John Foley on Friday said the board annually discusses the superintendent's evaluation form as early in the new school year as possible – at the board's summer retreat and in closed executive session. He said the board aims to reach a consensus along with the superintendent about what the evaluation will entail. The board uses an online platform called SuperEval, which the New York State School Boards Association recently adopted as a statewide model. Foley said it can be adapted to fit a district's particular needs.
“These instruments are both valid and valuable, and they do cover the issues that are important for us,” Foley said of the district's superintendent evaluation.
He said it falls to individual board members to raise specific concerns about the evaluation and present ideas for how to change it.
“At this point its incumbent upon anyone who wants to change how it's tailored to present what they want,” Foley said. “I think anyone who is not satisfied with how it's being used has to tell the board what's not right, specifically.”
Rivera also called for a three-year contract that wouldn't require the board to each year determine whether the superintendent qualified for a raise and one-year extension to the contract, as is spelled out in Spring's current contract. She said she would prefer if targets – and financial incentives tied to improvement – were set over a time frame longer than a year.
“If we give a raise every single year it's not allowing that time for people to show they have really met those goals,” she said. “You need time for change, change doesn't happen in a year.”
Board member Dharam Hitlall at Wednesday's board meeting said he also “struggled with making this decision” to approve Spring's raise and contract and highlighted a desire to see immediate improvement on the district's academic indicators.
“I understand we want to see changes now rather than later,” he said, highlighting the district's graduation rate in particular. “There are improvements that need to be made in the district.”
Ultimately, Hitlall said he felt the district was headed in a “good direction” and approved Spring's raise.
Other board members were largely effusive in their praise of Spring's leadership, highlighting a litany of initiatives taken on during his tenure, including a new diversion program for students with serious code of conduct infractions, efforts to better serve struggling students who don't qualify for special education, the creation of an annual urban educators conference, and establishing a summer program that now serves over 1,000 district students.
In its annual superintendent review, the school board deemed Spring overall “highly effective” - the highest rating and one that means his performance regularly exceeded the board's expectations. The board marked Spring highly effective in community relations, instructional leadership, business and finance and in his relationship with the board. He was scored as effective in his staff relations; the lowest mark Spring received in the evaluation was for a goal of developing a long range financial plan.
After Wednesday's board meeting, Spring said he was optimistic the impacts of many of the initiatives established over the past seven years would start to pay dividends and show up in improving academic measures like graduation rates. He also raised a personal interest in staying in the district through the end of his four-year contract, and possibly beyond: his oldest daughter starts at Schenectady High School in the fall, with another daughter following a few years behind.
“Why would I want to go anywhere?” Spring said after the board approved the extension. “Now is when the fun is gonna start as students see the benefits of those services.”