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Sarasota Thursday, May 6, 2021 6 months ago

Board members consider how best to evaluate superintendent

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Superintendent Brennan Asplen has been on the job for nearly a year. Now board members will evaluate his effectiveness.
by: Brynn Mechem Staff Writer

No one in the Sarasota County School District is above a report card, not even the superintendent.

But just how that report card will be determined is still up for debate.

Brennan Asplen began working for the district in August 2020, and now school board members will evaluate the job he’s done  to determine where improvements can be made and whether he deserves performance-based bonuses.

Most recently, the board evaluated then-Superintendent Todd Bowden on 11 criteria including leadership and culture, policy and governance, communications and community relations, curriculum and planning development, and values and ethics of leadership.

Additionally, the board sets performance goals for the superintendent to accomplish throughout the year, linked to an additional $15,000 in performance pay.

This year, however, board members were undecided on which criteria to use for Asplen because of COVID-19.

Some preferred to stick to old metrics, such as leadership, operations, finance and community relations to determine his effectiveness. However, others say the board would be remiss to leave out the pandemic’s effects, which affected much of his first year.

“It has been an overriding issue at the 30,000-foot level as well as the ground level on everything we’ve done this year,” board member Jane Goodwin said. “So I think, for me, it is an important aspect of the job he’s done.”

When Asplen was hired, he created a document containing eight goals that he would like to accomplish within his first 90 days. Among those goals were building strong relationships with the school board and community stakeholders, elevating the district’s academic standards, and learning and evaluating the district’s climate.

Board member Bridget Ziegler said those eight goals offer a good framework for the board to work from for this year. However, some metrics, such as how the district performed on state testing, might not be available by the June 30 deadline the board has to evaluate Asplen.

Additionally, some board members wanted to align Asplen’s evaluation goals with goals outlined in the district’s new strategic plan, but the plan will not be finalized until August.

Board member Tom Edwards suggest the board plan a retreat for September to create new goals aligned with the district’s strategic plan. 

For now, Ziegler and board member Karen Rose said the best evaluation metric would be to use Asplen’s plan because it’s the terms the board agreed upon when they hired him.

“In all fairness and best practice, I think we go to the goals that we accepted upon hiring him, which I think are very adequate, high-quality goals for the first 90 days,” Rose said.

After agreeing to use the 90-day plan, board members argued over how best to rate Asplen. Some preferred a numerical system while others preferred categories labeled highly effective, effective, needs improvement or unsatisfactory.

In the past, board members have rated various categories one through five, and then each board member’s number for each category was added up to give the superintendent a final rank for each category.

Ziegler suggested the board retain that system because it best reflects the opinion of each board member while also giving a united board total.

Asplen said that’s the way administrators evaluate principals and teachers. Additionally, he said a numerical system would be the most effective way for board members to combine their thoughts because they are forbidden by state open government laws to collaborate outside of meetings.

Board members agreed to meet with Asplen for individual interviews and rank his performance on the goals laid out in his 90-day plan. They will then present their individual rankings at an upcoming board workshop to be combined to determine his overall effectiveness.

They then will meet in September to determine goals for Asplen to meet during the 2021-22 school year.

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