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With new leader, district must plan for success now

With the appointment of Pamela C. Brown as the next superintendent of the Buffalo Public Schools, the district is transitioning into a new period of leadership at a vital time, with many promising assets and programs in place, including Say Yes to Education, Promise Neighborhoods and growing parent and community engagement.

For the board, however, this summer is a vital time in preparing the next superintendent and the district for success. A strong evaluation process should make it abundantly clear that improving student achievement is the district's top priority and that it is serious about developing and adhering to a clear strategy to achieve this goal.

The superintendent evaluation process used during the previous superintendent's tenure had a number of shortcomings. First, it was informal and unstructured, allowing and encouraging the board to put off the evaluation until the last minute.

Second, it relied on only a single measure, a survey of the board that weighted all criteria, such as improving student achievement and the superintendent's professional appearance, equally.

Third, the evaluation of the superintendent had no correlation to the priorities and goals set out in the previous year's evaluation, avoiding actually holding the superintendent accountable for achieving these goals.

In Buffalo ReformED's research, a strong superintendent evaluation has four keys. First, the evaluation system should be a year-round priority: developing the district's goals and priorities, monitoring and evaluating the district's progress toward these goals and adjusting the goals accordingly should be a continual process.

Second, progress should be measured against clearly defined and pre-established goals and priorities, not subjectively over frustrations on short-term problems.

Third, the outcomes from one year's evaluation should guide and instruct the development of the following year's evaluation.

Fourth, the board must clearly understand and accept the importance of its responsibility to carry out the evaluation, and enforce accountability of the superintendent.

The Buffalo Public Schools are in an exciting time, with many opportunities before them. But in order to make the most of its new opportunities, the board must set up the district for success. With some hard work from the board this summer, the superintendent can hit the ground running from day one.

The most important thing Brown can do as the new superintendent is install and adhere to a concrete plan to improve the district's performance; the board can help this process by establishing a clear set of priorities and a firm procedure for measuring the district's progress and the superintendent's performance.?

Jason A. Zwara is a research and policy adviser for Buffalo ReformED.