Published in the April 20, 2017 edition
By DAN TOMASELLO
NORTH READING — The School Committee gave itself a positive review in its self-evaluation earlier this month.
The school board has been conducting the self-evaluation, which is based on the state mandated educator evaluation system, for several years. The evaluation rated the School Committee’s performance in the following areas: Leadership and governance; educational program; financial and asset management; and family and community relations.
Leadership and governance
The scores the School Committee gave itself on the leadership and governance section of the evaluation ranged between 2.6 and 4.0.
According to the evaluation instrument, the school board gave itself a 2.6 on the engaging in a professional development program question. School Committee member Julie Koepke, who serves on the Evaluation Subcommittee with School Committee member Janene Imbriano, said committee members “do not receive a lot of professional development.”
School Committee member Mel Webster noted the school board has established a program for new committee members. He said committee members could attend Massachusetts Association of School Committees (MASC) conferences in order to receive additional professional development.
School Committee Vice Chairman Jerry Venezia proposed having the school board participate in a regional seminar with area school committees.
The committee received a 3.8 for its working relationship with Superintendent of Schools Jon Bernard. The committee received a 3.6 on two different questions related to working with local officials and municipal personnel.
“The North Reading School Committee continues to be a highly effective committee that works collegially and respectfully,” reads the evaluation instrument. “Though not always in agreement, committee members are willing to listen to others’ viewpoints. Members collaborate on a regular basis. Meetings are productive and efficient. The chairmanship has rotated over the past four years. The committee allows for participation from meeting attendees. Most members read the MASC list serve to stay up to date on issues as well as get guidance on current educational matters. The MASC Conference continues to be helpful, especially for new members.”
“All School Committee members serve as representatives on town-wide boards and committees,” the evaluation instrument continued. “Committee members actively participate at these meetings, and advocate for the school department. The Finance Planning Team continues to be very productive in sharing information; formulating a balanced budget; and looking for long-term goals and planning for Town Meeting. Productive subcommittee work continues and affords members the opportunity to interact and work with elected and appointed officials. While supporting the development of a strategic plan to elevate student achievement, members realize that we do not control the funding necessary for its implementation. One member expresses a need to discuss personnel matters, perhaps through increased executive session. The committee establishes goals and evaluates the superintendent on a regular basis.”
The School Committee gave itself positive marks on the educational program component of the evaluation. The scores ranged between 2.9 and 3.8.
“The School Committee understands its role and allows (the) administration to run the school system,” reads the evaluation instrument. “We do not micromanage. While the committee is privy to the curriculum and wants to enhance and improve academic programs, budget constraints limit this. Members give feedback and input to the administration about the strategic plan as well as the school improvement plans. Professional development continues to be a concern, but it’s budget driven.”
Koepke noted the question about implementing the educator evaluation system dropped from 3.4 last year to 2.9 this year even though the system was implemented several years ago.
In response to a question from Webster, Bernard said 13 school officials are tasked with evaluating faculty members.
“That doesn’t seem to be too efficient,” said Webster.
Bernard said the evaluation system is “a cumbersome process.”
“We are not just checking boxes,” said Bernard. “We have adopted the belief of providing valuable feedback.”
Financial and asset management
The School Committee gave itself a positive review on the financial and asset management section of the evaluation. Scores ranged between 3.4 and 4.0.
“The School Committee works hard to balance what we think the school department needs and what the town can afford,” reads the evaluation instrument. “Budget workshops convey the committee’s priorities for the upcoming school year. The close working relationships with the superintendent and director of finance and operations enable the committee to provide a transparent and responsible budget to the community. Members continue to aggressively advocate for increased school funding. Unfortunately, we have not been successful in funding beyond a level services budget. One member sees a need to be more innovative in finding the means to fund the strategic plan.”
Family and community relations
The school board also gave itself a positive review on the family and community relations section of the evaluation. Scores ranged between 3.0 and 3.6.
“The School Committee continues to increase its engagement with the community,” reads the evaluation instrument. “Members try to be involved in as many school and town activities. The committee is always open to input from the public. An increased social media presence is still a desire of some of the members. The committee continues to provide important information to the public about the school system. One member would like to see more involvement in the school improvement plans.”
Bernard noted the School Committee previously received mid-year updates on school improvement plans, and said resuming that practice would be one way to address the concern.
Webster said the School Committee deserves its exemplary scores.
“We have a high functioning committee, and a positive and productive relationship with the administration,” said Webster. “In the years we have been doing this self-assessment, I have never rated the committee this high. We have a great mix of people from different parts of the community. We have differences in opinion and we don’t vote unanimously on everything. We don’t hash out bad blood and whack each other around, which is not necessary.”
Venezia and Koepke both noted the school board has a positive working relationship with municipal officials.
“It’s almost as important as our relationship with the administration,” said Venezia. “We have a collegial and collaborative relationship with the town.”