The Houston County School Board’s routine evaluation shows that Superintendent David Sewell is falling short of meeting the board's expectations.
Alabama Association of School Boards (AASB) issued the test that six of the seven board members contributed to by voting on a scale of 1 to 5, with a score of 1 signaling “unsatisfactory” performance, 3 indicating “meets expectations” and 5 meaning “demonstrates excellence.”
Based on an average of 44 indicators that describe his performance in 10 job duty areas, the board gave Sewell, who is in the third year of his first term, a score of a 2.4 – demonstrating their collective opinion that his job performance needs improvement.
The areas scored the lowest is personnel management, 2, CEO for the school board, 2.1, educational leadership of the schools and communication and interpersonal skills, both 2.2.
School board chairman Vince Wade said the scores were in line with the evaluation completed in 2018, when two different board members were seated.
“The message stayed consistent. I think you’ll see in the evaluation that communication is our biggest issue – getting the information to the board in a timely manner, getting the information we need to make an informed business decisions on his recommendations,” he said.
Individual indicators spread among several job duty descriptors show the lowest scores in the evaluation are in areas of communication.
> Updates board on status of programs, personnel and operations; recommends actions as appropriate, 1.7
>>Effectively communicates system goals and mission to staff, students and parents, 1.8
>>Ensures the system recruits and retains effective employees, 1.8
>>Ensures employee actions are fair and appropriate, 1.8
>>Performs duties in professional manner, consistently displaying integrity, honesty and genuine concerns for students and employees, 1.8
>>Provides accurate data to school board and other agencies as requested, 1.8
“What the board wants to see is more communication and more collaboration, that’s where we’re lacking at this point,” Wade said. “We would like to see some goals set and some long-term planning on what we want the future of our kids in Houston County to have.
“It seems as if today, we operate on putting out the hottest fire and the duties of the board and the superintendent should be more about establishing a future for our children and working together to achieve the same goal.”
Wade said annual evaluations and the public hearing process are required by board policy. He believes they’re important as a function of the school board’s job, which is to keep the public informed.
“It sets a good track of where you’re at and where you want to go,” he said. “The objective is always to make improvement.”
The superintendent was scored the highest in the area of technology management, 3.1, likely due in part to Sewell’s previous position as accountability and data manager for central office. Other high scores were in facilities and financial management, 2.8, and management of pupil personnel services, 2.7.
Community relations, 2.6, and professional development and leadership, 2.3, fell along the middle.
“I look at it as constructive criticism. There’s always room for improvement,” Sewell said. “This shows me areas I can improve and get better.
“I’m going to try to do a better job of communicating with them and keep them informed. I mean, I’ve tried, but apparently they think I need to step it up, so I’ll do my best.”
Sewell announced his candidacy to run for superintendent again on Aug. 15 at a short-notice gathering of around 100 people. The superintendent position will be on the 2020 ballot.
“Since I’m an elected superintendent, my ultimate evaluation will be by the voters,” Sewell said.
Sewell’s performance was also evaluated by the employees who directly report to him, including all central office staff and school principals; 17 of 20 qualifying personnel opted to evaluate Sewell’s performance.
In a set of 30 separate uncategorized indicators, scores average a 3, signaling that Sewell is meeting their expectations.
Out of the individual markers, the highest average was a 3.6 for “is a positive person who maintains his composure in difficult situations.” The second highest scores were both a 3.4 for providing staff with meaningful professional growth opportunities and promoting use of technology in all aspects of schools and system.
The lowest scored markers were a 2.6 for “speaks and writes clearly, correctly and coherently,” “resolves conflicts when they occur,” and “is skilled at identifying and solving problems.”
The variation in the board’s overall score and the direct reports score is common for most AASB sets of superintendent evaluations.
The board and superintendent also evaluated the Chief School Financial Officer Kerry Bedsole’s performance through AASB. The board and superintendent both indicated that Bedsole exceeded expectations with average scores of 4.1 and 4, respectively.