Superintendent found 'proficient'; evaluation tool not so much

Occupancy of Thompson addition expected Monday

UPDATED, Nov. 14: The School Committee has graded Superintendent Kathleen Bodie "proficient" overall in her 2017 evaluation, but gave lower marks for the assessment form.

Kathleen BodieBodie

Occurring in public since 2011, the evaluation of the top school officer took the majority of the School Committee's time at its meeting Thursday, Nov. 9. There was no vote on the evaluation.

school committee 120517

After deciding to take up the evaluation itself again in both subcommittee and then the whole committee, the members also voted yes to the LABBB Collaborative capital plan, heard an extensive report about the Nov. 1 professional day and reviewed school-building updates. As to the latter, occupancy of the Thompson addition, delayed since August, is expected Nov. 20.

Regarding the evaluation, committee Chair Jeff Thielman, as has occurred in the past, began the reporting on the results summarizing individual members' responses. The evaluation is divided into two steps. The first comprises three goals -- professional practice, student learning and district improvement. Superintendent Bodie received a "met goal" on professional practice, "some progress" on student learning and "met goal" on district improvement.

For the second step, the committee considered four areas: instructional leadership, management and operations, family and community engagement, and professional culture. Bodie achieved a "proficient" in all categories, including the summary of all four. Later in the meeting, Thielman said that "proficient" stood for "fully satisfactory."

Committee members' comments

Following the summaries, individual committee members read sections from their evaluations; each had some positive comments and then suggestions for improvement.

Member Les Kardon complimented the superintendent on her high level of performance in leadership yet had concerns about the need for more community input on the building projects. In particular, he cited the process of hiring the new principal for the Gibbs School where the result of the search yielded only one applicant, who Bodie quickly hired. In response, all of the members of the Gibbs Advisory Committee sent a letter of concern. In addition, Kardon reiterated his September complaint about issues in special-education compliance found by the state last June. 

Committee member Jennifer Susse remarked that she was impressed the school department worked as smoothly as it does, citing the high standards for teaching and learning and that "teachers feel respected and valued." She did note two areas for improvement: 1.) transparency and communication and 2.) engagement of stakeholders early on in the decision-making. In regard to the latter, she announced that she had "not yet seen a plan by which this year's decision would be made."

Progress cited

Member Paul Schlichtman listed three important endeavors where the superintendent had made significant progress: 1.) overseeing school building projects, 2.) filling two senior vacancies in the school department, assistant superintendent and chief financial officer, and 3.) being proactive in identifying enrollment increases. At the same time, he saw a number of areas for improvement, including improving communications with parents and coordinating meetings and events so as to avoid conflicts. Overall, he reported that he "was pleased with the superintendent's performance in the 2017-18 school year."

Member Bill Hayner also rated Bodie as "proficient" overall, though he, too, wanted the superintendent to have a more "proactive approach in engaging the parents." Also he expressed a concern that some additional queries, known as "smart questions" -- ones specific to the school district -- were missing.

"One of the hardest-working people I know" is how member Kirsi Allison-Ampe described the superintendent and went on to praise her for her collaborative approach in working with teachers and unions. Yet she also expressed concern about the state special-education review results. In addition, Allison-Ampe requested that the superintendent share more high-level analyses completed by her or her staff. She said that "information was not rolled up to a higher level."

Thielman readily praised the superintendent's performance: "[She] skillfully leads a district that performance above the state average ... while spending less per pupil than the overall Massachusetts school system average." He cited two other laudable achievements: the cultural-competency program and the successful searches for two senior positions. Still, he reported concern about the process by which the social-and-emotional learning program will be developed for the sixth grade at the new Gibbs School.

Superintendent Bodie thanked the members for their "very thoughtful comments" and promised to work with each of them on their suggestions for improvement. 

Dissatisfaction with evaluation instrument

Immediately after the reporting the evaluations came complaints about the evaluation instrument itself. Allison-Ampe reflected, "I thought last year we decided that we would reevaluate this document and change how we are doing things. What happened to that?"

Thielman responded that two committees have jurisdiction: Policy and Procedures Subcommittee and the Curriculum/Instruction and Assessment Subcommittee. If it was a question of the quality of the questions, then the policy committee should take it up.

Committee member Bill Hayner disagreed: "We need an individual subcommittee by itself with the superintendent" and "to do it as soon as possible."

Thielman remarked that there was no consensus from the January discussion about the process of the evaluation revision and thus no one took ownership of it.

Schlichtman concurred: "All seven of us have a different viewpoint of where it is." He suggested that any changes to the form be "hashed out in a retreat."

Allison-Ampe lodged another objection: "I don't feel this [instrument] properly captures things that can be changed the next year."

Thielman offered to organized a retreat. After further discussion among the members, Thielman decided that the issue should be first taken up by the policies and procedure subcommittee at its next meeting, on Dec. 6, and then report back at the following School Committee meeting. 

Other business

In other business, the committee voted unanimously to support the LABBB Collaborative capital plan, heard a report on the Nov. 1 professional-development day, passed the consent agenda and reviewed the school-building updates from Bodie.

The big news with the AHS building update was the signing of an agreement with HMFH Architects for the feasibility study

Second was the awarding of the temporary occupancy certificate for the Thompson with the goal of taking occupancy by Monday, Nov. 20.Stratton image

A public open house at the Stratton is set for Sunday, Nov. 19, from 2 to 4 p.m.  All members of the community are welcome to come, and tour the school.

The Stratton ribbon-cutting has been postponed to later date to be set in the future.

Construction for the Hardy addition is expected begin in March, with the aim of finishing by Thanksgiving of the next year.

Despite various small issues with the Gibbs, it remains on schedule. A Parent Forum is being scheduled for the first week in December with the exact date to be announced.

After going into a closed session, the School Committee adjourned.

Sept. 20, 2017: State review of special ed cites 13 issues, draws committee differences
Nov. 16, 2016: School Committee evaluates Bodie positively, hears budget updates
Nov. 18, 2013: Bodie passes third public evaluation
Nov. 13, 2011: An Arlington first: School Committee evaluates superintendent in public

This news summary by YourArlington freelance Jo Anne Preston was published Monday, Nov. 13, 2017. It was updated the next day, to add information about Stratton.

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