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Top 10 Mistakes to Avoid When Evaluating Your Charter School Leader

Your charter school’s success hinges largely on the success of your charter school leader.

Most boards fully recognize and understand the significance of their responsibility as the governing body of the organization, to whom the CEO reports. And yet, many don’t plan adequately for doing the CEO evaluation or they just don’t know what process to follow.

Now, we know that charter school leaders go by many names — principal, executive director, and many more. Because they’re managing a multimillion-dollar public enterprise, we refer to charter school leaders as CEOs. In fact, we’re seeing this title be used more and more in your organizations — and not only in charter management organizations.

Whether your board is preparing to evaluate your CEO for the first time, or you’ve tried a few times but just not landed on a process that’s consistent and truly useful to everyone involved, it’s likely that you’ve experienced any number of the most common mistakes that charter boards make in this area.

So, let’s walk through the top 10 mistakes that charter school boards make when they evaluate their leader — and what you can do to avoid them in the future.

1.You just don’t do it.

We’re pretty shocked at this one. But it’s true. A high percentage of you just don’t get around to doing your evaluation.

This is usually because you don’t have a process. So you don’t know where to start.

For some, this is largely because the board is busy. And designing a good process, as well as evaluation tools to run that process, is difficult.

Sometimes, seeing that the board is just too busy, the CEO will actually tell the board they’re fine with not being evaluated at all. Even though they want you to evaluate them, they’re not convinced you’re going to do an effective process. So they’d rather have no evaluation than an ineffective one.

2. You see this as an end of the year, quick hit task — not a year-long process.

Effective CEO or school leader support and evaluation really is a year-round process. The end of the year evaluation is only one step of a five-part cycle.

We recommend having a check-in conversations in the fall and spring — a formal process to see how the CEO and the organization are moving towards achieving their goals. And then, finally, the annual evaluation.

3. You designed the process without including the CEO.

This should be a collaborative process with the CEO. The CEO should have a chance to weigh in on the process and the evaluation tools. Because, ultimately, it should feel supportive rather than punitive. You want this to really be a learning and building experience for the CEO.

So, rather than tasking a few well-meaning board members to go off and come up with their own process, or even try to implement someone else’s process, make sure your board and CEO commit to the right process together.

4. The board is unclear about what you’re measuring performance against.

An effective evaluation centers around board-approved organizational goals for the year. And those goals refer back to the charter and accountability plan. Then the evaluation is looking at performance against goals that you set a year before.

5. Misusing parent and teacher satisfaction surveys.

We don’t recommend asking parents or teachers questions directly about the leader. We think you should ask questions about overall organizational performance and it will talk about the role of parents and teachers satisfaction surveys when we get into the actual action steps.

6. The full board doesn’t share the responsibility of the evaluation.

Some trustees may have better visibility than others into particular areas. But you’re all on the hook for the overall organizational effectiveness. So all trustees should complete an evaluation tool.

Yes, the treasurer of your board may have more insight into how your leader is doing with managing the finances. The chair of the development committee may have a better sense of how the CEO is performing on fundraising tasks. But the CEO reports to the entire board. So everybody should weigh in.

7. Direct reports didn’t get to weigh in anonymously.

We highly recommend a process that allows the direct reports to weigh in. But board members should never interview the staff directly. That’s a very common mistake, and one we see for a variety of reasons. But when board members end up interviewing staff about the CEO’s performance, it just sets up a whole constellation of potential problems, not the least of which is that it removes their anonymity.

8. The board doesn’t speak with one voice.

It’s imperative that the board provide feedback to the CEO by speaking with one voice.

Ideally, you would deliberate in closed session (to the extent that your state’s open meeting law will allow) about the feedback you want to give collectively as a group. And then share that feedback directly with the CEO.

It’s not helpful to the CEO to have nine board members share nine different opinions about how they’re doing. Come to some consensus first.

This assumes that your open meeting law allows for that type of deliberation. Typically, the law does make for allowances around performance issues. But each state’s laws are at slightly different. So be sure that you know how to be compliant.

9. You shared raw data with the CEO.

We’ve seen boards using evaluation and survey tools and then sharing that raw data in a way that just doesn’t build the positive experience that you want.

Again, the board must speak with one voice. It’s better to say, “The majority of the board feel you’re doing an outstanding job on xyz,” versus saying, “Nine of us think you do this well in one does not.”

When you share the raw data, that CEO is going to go off and say, I wonder who that one person is that doesn’t think I’m doing a good job. Or, more likely they’ll say, “Oh, I know who that must be.” And it’s just not helpful to bring it down to that level of granularity.

10. The board doesn’t complete a parallel evaluation process.

It’s a partnership. At the end of the year, the board should evaluate itself as well as evaluating the leader.

And, you should have a similar year-round process for constantly and consistently evaluating how you’re performing as a board. The board should have its own job description and performance expectations to measure yourselves against. The board should have its own goals. There should be ongoing accountability.

In the fall and the spring check-in on the CEO’s performance, the CEO should also give the board feedback on their performance.

Many of the CEO goals are linked with the board goals. You may jointly be trying to raise money, or jointly manage the organizational finances. And, sometimes, the CEO is not able to complete their part of the bargain because the board isn’t doing theirs. So you want to be able to give and receive feedback to allow those things to be addressed.

CHARTER SCHOOL LEADER COMPENSATION

It’s time to pull back the curtain on charter school leader compensation.

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