School surveys of TUSD principals on the nonrenewal list

by David Safier

On Monday, TUSD indicated it had slated 4 principals for removal because their schools had D grades from the state two years in a row. At last night's Board meeting, 3 of the 4 principals' contracts were not renewed, though if they receive a C or better rating from the state this year, they could be reinstated. The fourth principal, I was told by Pedicone's office, was taken off the nonrenewal list, though I wasn't told why.

I wanted to find a way of evaluating the 4 principals' effectiveness using something other than students' scores on the state test which are used to calculate the school's grade, so I spent some time compiling data from the districts' yearly School Quality Survey Summaries. The surveys, spanning 2007 to 2013, are completed by staff, parents and students. They are a series of statements which can be marked Strongly Agree, Agree, Disagree, Strongly Disagree or N.A./Don't Know. I checked to see if there was a significant change in the evaluations from before and after the current principals began at that school and if there were any significant trends during their tenure.

Here's a summary of my findings:

  • Rex Scott, Catalina Magnet High: Scott's evaluations are markedly better than those of his predecessor and on a par with or better than the district-wide evaluations.
  • Heidi Aranda, Ochoa Magnet Elementary: Aranda has been with the school since 2002, so I couldn't compare her with her predecessor. Her evaluations vary considerably from year to year, with the high points being 2008, 2012 and 2013, all of which are significantly stronger than 2009-2011.
  • Mark Alvarez, Manzo Elementary: Alvarez's evaluations are comparable to, though a bit lower than, the principal he replaced beginning in 2010. Both principals have reasonably high evaluations with very few negatives.
  • Cindy Shepard-Mady, Utterback Magnet Middle: Shepard-Mady took over as principal in 2011. Her short, two year tenure may be the reason she was taken off the nonrenewal list. However, her evaluations are the only ones with a serious red flag. Her first year's evaluation is a bit lower than that of her predecessor, but her most recent evaluation took a sharp dip, with the staff giving her significantly lower marks than they did her first year.

To the extent these evaluations reflect the job the principals are doing, Rex Scott is doing an exceptional job, Heidi Aranda and Mark Alvarez appear to be competent principals who should be observed more carefully before a decision is made not to renew their contracts, and Cindy Shepard-Mady appears to have lost the confidence of her staff, which may indicate that she isn't an effective principal. Ironically, Shepard-Mady is the only principal in the group with serious red flags in her evaluations, yet she is the only one guaranteed for renewal.

Read further to learn about my findings in a bit more depth.

All the surveys have a number of items. The best indicator of how well the school is functioning and how well the principal is doing is the evaluation of overall satisfaction with the school. The results in that category, not surprisingly, tend to track closely with the results in other categories. The staff is asked to rate the effectiveness of the principal's leadership, which also tracks closely with the overall satisfaction scores. Parents and students aren't asked to rate the principal's effectiveness.

Rex Scott began at Catalina Magnet High in the 2009-10 school year. While his predecessor had between 6% and 19% of the staff mark the overall satisfaction with the school category as Strongly Agree, Scott's three year numbers in that category range from 21% to 25%. Before he began, the principal's negative evaluations ranged from 16% to 49%. Scott's negatives range from 9% to 12%, pretty much identical to the district-wide score. Evaluations by parents and students follow similar trends. The staff evaluation of Scott's effectiveness as a leader is more dramatic, jumping 20-30% over his predecessor and exceeding the district average by 10%. [Full disclosure: I know Rex and have a great deal of respect for him as a person and an educator. That being said, I recorded and reported his data accurately.]

Heidi Aranda began at Ochoa Magnet Elementary during the 2002-3 school year. Since the online evaluations only go back to 2007, there's no way to compare her with the previous principal. Her staff ratings of overall satisfaction with the school and the quality of her leadership wary widely from year to year. In 2008 she had very high ratings in both categories. They went down signficantly for the next three years, with the negatives increasing by over 20%. Then in the past two years, her numbers are back where they were in 2008. Parents' rating of their overall satisfaction with the school remained high throughout the years, with no more than 3% giving Aranda negative ratings.

Mark Alvarez at Manzo Elementary had fewer staff members give their overall satisfaction with the school a Strongly Agree rating than his predecessor, whose numbers were in the 61-76% range, while Alvarez's were 51-60%. However, both principals' satisfaction numbers are high. Alvarez didn't get a single negative rating from the staff in this category in his 3 years at the school. Staff also gave him lower marks than the earlier principal on the effectiveness of his leadership, but there were very few negative ratings. (Because 2011 and 2013 are missing from the Manzo parent evaluations, the results are too spotty to report.)

Cindy Shepard-Mady at Utterback Magnet Middle has only been at the school for two years, and in both years her ratings from the staff are significantly lower than her predecessor, with her most recent evaluation being the worse of the two. Before Shepard-Mady took over, the staff gave Strongly Agree ratings in overall satisfaction with the school category ranging from 27% to 36%,while during Shepard-Mady's two years, the range is 6% and 11%. Her negatives, which were 28% her first year, shot up to 40% this year. She had a similar jump in her negatives in the quality of her leadership, going from 19% her first year (which was a few points better than her predecessor) to 39% this year. (The most recent parent evaluations are missing, so there is only one year of parent evaluations, which isn't enough information to report.)

These evaluations only give a rough picture of the job the four principals are doing at their schools. But the same must be said about state test scores which only evaluate a small portion of the overall curriculum — and evaluate that portion crudely — while they favor schools with higher income students. The survey data, though far from conclusive, add another dimension to deciding if these four principals are effective administrators. The information should be considered, along with any other information that can be gathered, before any of the principals are fired.

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