The head of the Buffalo Public Schools did a good job in her first year in office, according to her annual evaluation, which was released by the district late Tuesday afternoon.
On a three-point scale, Pamela Brown received an average composite score of 2.5.
“It’s a very positive evaluation,” said new school board President Barbara Seals Nevergold.
“It does demonstrate that the board has confidence in Dr. Brown and that the board supports the programs and the development of the plan that she’s putting into place to improve student achievement.”
Board member Sharon Belton-Cottman said, “I think we’re moving finally in the right direction. We still have a long way to go, but I am convinced we have the right person in place to do that.”
Brown generally received scores around 2.5 for board, community and educational relationships.
She received her highest score – 2.68 – for “personal qualities” and her lowest score – 2.18 – for “staff and personnel relationships.” She received a 2.58 for her performance in the business and finance category.
While board members interviewed Tuesday expressed either strong or lukewarm support for the superintendent, despite ongoing community concern about student achievement in the district, several were very critical of the evaluation process itself. “It was a debacle, and it was rushed,” said board member Jason McCarthy. “Everyone was coming off of elections.”
McCarthy and Ralph Hernandez, the board’s former vice president of executive affairs under whose supervision the evaluation was completed, were running for re-election when the evaluation was under way.
The evaluation was completed a month late, with multiple board members failing to submit their evaluation on time and some being asked to explain why they gave the superintendent low scores without any written justification.
When the board approved Brown’s evaluation last Wednesday, a number of the board members hadn’t even seen a final version of the document. Nevergold, however, stressed that all board members agreed on its content. “Every board member was thoroughly involved and reviewed the development of the document throughout the entire process,” she said.
Perhaps the most problematic issue was that the document erroneously used a three-point scale to evaluate the superintendent instead of the required five-point scale. That resulted in an algebraic exercise by district leaders to come up with a legally acceptable score.
“Since Dr. Brown’s contractual agreement required that the evaluation be based on a five-point scale, the final score of 2.5 was converted to reflect the comparable score on a five-point scale and equated to 4.17,” stated the abbreviated half-page document released to the public.
“I’m not saying it was a wonderfully accurate evaluation,” said board member John Licata.
Licata also said the board had been in “crisis mode” when Brown was hired at the start of last school year and had failed to set specific goals for her to meet when she started. That made it difficult and awkward for the board to evaluate her a year later.
“The board didn’t do its job, period,” Licata said, “and I think we should take full responsibility for that.”
The board will provide concrete goals and directives for Brown as she enters her second year, board members said.
Maverick new board member Carl Paladino told The Buffalo News he believes the evaluation was approved illegally and that he will seek to have it rescinded. But it’s doubtful that he would get the votes necessary to accomplish that. “He’s not going to get four more votes,” Licata said. “The case law is very clear. The action of the outgoing board binds the incoming board.”
Licata added that he intends to introduce a new, more comprehensive evaluation tool that would give parents and other community stakeholders a say in the superintendent’s performance evaluation. He also said next year’s process will be more transparent.
All board members interviewed agreed that next year’s evaluation process will be a better one. “Now that I’m in charge of evaluations, I’d like to make sure its done right, open and in keeping with past practice,” said McCarthy, the board’s new vice president of executive affairs.
Several board members said Brown inherited a number of problems in her first year, including a 47 percent student graduation rate, which she was not responsible for.
“You really have to judge her on what she’s done in relationship to the time she’s been here,” Belton-Cottman said. “A lot of time, people want to dump on her our baggage. But she inherited it. In fairness to her, give her a chance.”
Samuel Radford III, president of the District Parent Coordinating Council, said the upcoming year’s evaluation will matter far more than this past year’s.
“We should raise our expectations of the outcomes we’re looking for,” said Radford, a parent leader who gave Brown credit for keeping “the ship floating” this year. “This is the year the evaluation matters. We should see some results. This is her staff. This is the year she’s got to deliver.”