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Otto: School board flunks its own evaluation

By Steve Otto
Tribune staff
Published: September 22, 2013 Updated: September 22, 2013 at 02:08 PM
Superintendent MaryEllen Elia got low scores from two members of the school board.

The proof came in the form of the board's annual evaluation of the district's superintendent, MaryEllen Elia.

All of us whose careers have been dependent upon evaluations understand the frequent unfairness of those measurements, which are often clouded by personal prejudices, jealousy and the politics of the office workplace.

It seems as if the relationship between workers in any field with their bosses has continued to erode or at least become more dependent upon being graded by some standardized test instead of the judgment of the individual.

Maybe it's always been that way.

When I was in the Air Force, our squadron leader would take a stack of evaluations and give them all the highest possible numbers, knowing they would be tossed into a larger stack of thousands to determine who would get another stripe. If they weren't perfect, you had no chance.

Evaluating the school superintendent is a tricky matter. I can't think of any position in the county that has more potential for blowing up.

The job is a flash point for anything that can go wrong. In Hillsborough County, one of the nation's larger districts, lots of things can and do go wrong, and there are plenty of parents watching to report them when they do. I mean the very logistics of just moving tens of thousands of children around the district safely every day is a daunting business.

A little disclosure here; my wife retired several months ago from teaching in the district. She was a tough and outstanding teacher. She also was and remains a vocal critic of much of what is happening in the system, and you can believe I hear it all.

But this is not as much about Elia, who has been superintendent since 2005, as it is the board's evaluation.

The evaluation is in nine categories. Board Chairwoman April Griffin gave the superintendent a “1,” which is unsatisfactory on a 1-5 scale. She did it in all nine categories.

So did board member Susan Valdes.

Can it be that Elia, named Superintendent of the Year by the Consortium of Florida Education Foundations, couldn't manage at least a “2” in any of the nine categories?

I mean, wasn't there some saving grace in at least one of the categories that might have earned her a “2” and also given the evaluation a hint of respectability?

At least the rest of the board threw in some mixed numbers, indicating they might have actually read the nine areas, unlike Griffin and Valdes.

You know, it's not enough that this board has licked its chops over the money it has pulled in from the Gates Foundation and its largely useless teacher evaluations (a program pushed by Elia), sending in “peer” teachers to evaluate teachers while having no sense of the makeup of any particular class or what situations an individual teacher might be facing.

But to also use evaluations as a political tool, which is all I can gather after this effort, is embarrassing to us all.