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Washington Co. school board to discuss performance self-appraisal

July 21, 2013|By JULIE E. GREENE | julieg@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN — The Washington County Board of Education hasn’t followed its own policy calling for an annual self-appraisal for about five years, some board members said last week.

The issue came to light last Tuesday when Melissa Williams, who joined the board in December, made a motion that the board discuss soon how its annual self-appraisal will be conducted, given policy calls for it to be completed before Oct. 1.

“I just feel that ... it would be a worthwhile endeavor,” Williams told her colleagues. “ ... We’re looking to move forward to set (board) goals and ... I think this is the time to do that, to be in compliance ... with board policy.”

The issue was not on the meeting’s agenda and seemed to catch several board members by surprise.

During an interview after the meeting, board President Justin Hartings said he wished Williams would have given her colleagues a heads-up about her motion. That might have helped result in an informed discussion, he said.

After a short discussion, in which at least two board members said a formal appraisal hadn’t been completed in recent years, the board voted 5-2 to discuss the process soon. Board Vice President Paul Bailey and member Wayne Ridenour voted no.

Hartings, who became board president in December, said the board has not conducted a formal self-appraisal since he’s been a board member. This is Hartings’ fifth year on the board.

Board member Donna Brightman said she participated in a board self-appraisal during a retreat, probably around the 2007-08 school year.

Before Hartings became board president, Ridenour was board president from 2009 to 2012.

“It was never mentioned. It was never suggested that we have one,” Ridenour said.

The last formal self-appraisals some board members said they could remember were conducted during retreats to discuss “board norms,” including how the board is supposed to operate.

“I think all of us do a self-appraisal every time we have a meeting,” Ridenour said.

Hartings said that after meetings he discusses how the meeting went and what can be done better with colleagues and the superintendent.

Brightman said she reflects on her role as a board member, just as she reflects on how she does in other aspects of her life.

But, she said, “I’m not sure I support that policy.”

“My experience with exercising that policy and going into those retreats have been pretty negative in the past,” Brightman said. She said they were more about “politics and personality conflicts than productive time.”

Ridenour also said he found those experiences were not positive and did not benefit the board.

“I don’t think they were productive at all. That’s my opinion,” he said.

Board member Jacqueline Fischer said a retreat in a more relaxed atmosphere, where the board isn’t dealing with school system problems, could be productive and improve board member relationships.

But, Fischer said, “Sometimes they lapse into a situation where they also become very destructive and really alienate board members from one another.”

Fischer said it’s been so long since the board had a self-appraisal that she thinks it would be good to try one, “mend some feelings,” and improve board relations.

Fischer said if the board does decide to conduct a self-appraisal, it probably needs to bring in an outside facilitator with whom members aren’t familiar so they “take it more seriously.”

Board policy states the purpose of the annual appraisal is to “improve communications; to improve members’ relationships among themselves and with the superintendent and staff; to improve decision-making skills; and to improve the Board’s ability to function effectively and efficiently.”

The policy was adopted on March 4, 1980, and was last updated on Jan. 23, 2007.

Fischer said the Policy Committee, which she chairs, is reviewing and updating policies among its other work. Now that the self-appraisal policy has been brought up, the committee likely will address it soon, she said.

As far as the board discussion concerning how to conduct a self-appraisal, Fischer said she didn’t think that, legally, there was a reason that discussion couldn’t occur during a public meeting. But, she said, she didn’t think the public needs to listen to that discussion.

With the 2007 update of the policy, the then-school board also adopted a “self-assessment instrument” that the school board can choose to use in conducting a self-appraisal.

The instrument includes a list of 31 practices that board members can rate on a scale of 1 to 5, both for how the board operates and how they want it to operate. There also are sections for each member to describe the board’s strengths and weaknesses.

Bailey, who is in his 15th year on the school board, said the board has used the checklist in the past to conduct self-appraisals.

Bailey said he voted against Williams’ motion because he thought it was a personnel matter and should be discussed in private, but he has no objections to the board conducting a self-appraisal.

“If it’s going to be effective, everyone has to buy into it and be brutally honest with one another,” Bailey said.

“You have to believe in your peers and accept what kind of comments and suggestions they can make to you. You have to have an open mind to benefit from it,” he said.

Board member Karen Harshman, who is in her third year on the board, said she believes the board needs to conduct a self-evaluation.

“We evaluate teachers, we evaluate the superintendent. We certainly should hold ourself accountable also,” she said.

Told some board members thought past self-appraisals weren’t productive, Harshman said the current board does not have the same makeup it did years ago.

“I don’t think that’s a legitimate argument,” Harshman said.

Williams said her motion wasn’t about the checklist that had been used in the past for board self-appraisals or even about whether the board was following its policy.

“This is something I feel we need to do and there is a policy that calls for that,” Williams said.

As a new board member, Williams said she has been attending professional meetings and reading and learning about boardmanship, including the importance of continuous improvement.

“We’re part of a school system that I believe holds itself to a high standard, and I believe we should hold ourself to a high standard as well,” Williams said.

Before declaring the July 16 board meeting adjourned, Hartings said the rules of parliamentary procedure allow any board member to make motions and parliamentary inquiries, and to try to enforce policy rules.

“And I would invite anybody who thinks that I or we are out of compliance with policy to use Robert’s Rules to make sure that we comply,” Hartings said.

Washington County Board of Education self-appraisal practices

A document the Washington County Board of Education has used in the past to perform self-appraisals lists 31 practices that board members can rate on a scale of 1 to 5.

The practices can be rated both on how the board operates and on how board members want it to operate.

There also are sections for each member to describe the board’s strengths and weaknesses that need improvement.

Board policy states the board can use the checklist, if it wishes, for the self-appraisal.

Some of the practices in the checklist include:

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