by Deb Dudley, Luan Burman Rivera and Sepideh Yeoh

BoardWise is a forum for board members and superintendents across the state to share questions about governance and board–superintendent relations. Send your questions to

This year, in addition to our column regulars, Deb Dudley and Luan Burman Rivera, we are welcoming new consultants throughout the year. This issue features Sepideh Yeoh, a board member in the Oak Park Unified School District. Previously, Sepideh worked as an administrator/adjunct faculty at the University at Buffalo and Hilbert College in Upstate New York. Her newest book, GLOW: Be the Light of Your Own Journey, was published in November 2017. Sepideh and her husband run a technology consulting firm in Oak Park, California.

Evaluating your superintendent

Dear BoardWise,

Not long ago, our board evaluated our superintendent. I am new to the board and the process of evaluating an employee as a member of a five-member team. I don’t feel entirely confident that we have used the best process. Does CSBA have any guidance on the process of superintendent evaluation?

Sepideh: You have raised a very good question, which I’m certain many board members have but may not feel comfortable asking.

The superintendent evaluation is crafted based on your district’s shared core beliefs, vision and mission statement and it serves as a model for your district’s evaluation process of all employees.

The first step to this process is for the governance team to establish goals, objectives and priority areas. CSBA recommends two primary content resources when establishing goals:

  1. Progress toward district goals/Local Control and Accountability Plan
  2. Personal and professional qualities based on the Superintendent Governance Standards

Goals outlined in the superintendent’s evaluation should follow the SMART goals model of being:

Specific – clarity on what needs to be done,
Measurable – ways to track progress,
Attainable – making it realistic and possible to achieve,
Relevant – your motivation to achieve this goal,
Time-oriented – setting revision and completion dates.

The process of crafting this evaluation should be collaborative, engaging and encourage all members of your governance team (board members and the superintendent) to participate, thus, promoting effective communications. It also needs to allow for opportunities to acknowledge accomplishments, provide support for growth and, when necessary, identify areas that need more attention.

Collective authority

Collective authority is an important concept to remember throughout this process. The superintendent works for the board, as a whole, not three, five or seven individuals. Therefore, it is important for the board to speak with one voice in the creation of the final document, which should be a consensus document. If agreement cannot be reached on some of the wording, the majority rules, as in any decision. There is no place for a minority opinion. Consensus development may require a good deal of time and discussion. Be sure to allot enough time to ensure an effective process and well-developed document.

Deb: I like to think about superintendent evaluation as a conversation, not a form. What I mean by this is that evaluation of the superintendent and their progress toward achieving board goals is an ongoing process, based on outcomes and timelines that the board and superintendent have developed together.

The superintendent evaluation should be a series of ongoing conversations that serve as a progress report toward the district goals. Goals conversations should focus on:

  • Measurement of progress toward goals
  • Ongoing collaboration with board and staff toward goals
  • Working together as a governance team, with focus on success indicators, and progress toward benchmarks and timelines for each goal.

In this way, boards can use the superintendent evaluation as an important leadership tool to focus and align all district efforts and to talk about where the district is going, not just this year, but with an eye to the future.

Sometimes a path toward a goal will require a superintendent to pivot or change course, and it’s important for the board to stay in tune with what that course change looks like and the direction it is taking the district. A great way to keep on track toward the board goals is to make sure they are included in the agenda on a quarterly basis. This way you can get an update on progress and adjust the course as needed.

We strongly recommend that board members use a narrative format for their evaluations. Describing one’s perspective on performance, and accompanying any negative with a recommendation for improvement, assures more thoughtful evaluation than simply providing a numerical (e.g., 1-5) or phrase (e.g., “clearly outstanding,” “needs improvement”) ranking. No matter what format is used to record evaluation, it is important that the board have a conversation about the reasons behind different members’ perspectives and that what is presented to the superintendent is a board consensus. The superintendent must respond to the collective agreements of the board and cannot be expected to respond to individual board member expectations.

Luan: As the board approaches the end of the process, there are several steps that should be followed in the development of the final written evaluation. These steps are described in CSBA’s “Key Points Relating to superintendent Evaluation,” and paraphrased below. “Key Points” can be found on the Effective Governance page of the CSBA website under “Tools,” along with a suggested evaluation format. These steps include:

  • The board and superintendent meet in closed session to review the timeline and evaluation format.
  • The superintendent should have a prepared evaluation packet for the board, including the superintendent’s report on goal achievement, self-evaluation, contract and appropriate policy language.
  • Board members individually evaluate the superintendent’s performance.
  • Upon completion of the individual evaluations, the full board should meet in closed session to discuss and develop the final document.
  • The board president or designee creates a summary document that is reviewed and approved by the full board.
  • Following the distribution of the final document to all parties, the board and superintendent meet to discuss the evaluation.