Martha’s Vineyard school superintendent James Weiss keeps his grades up

Superintendent of public schools James Weiss again received high marks and praise, along with some suggestions for improvement, in his annual evaluation reviewed by the All-Island School Committee (AISC) on April 27.

Mr. Weiss also provided and commented on a self-evaluation he prepares annually. As he looks ahead, he said, Martha’s Vineyard Public Schools (MVPS) are going to have to make some changes in the near future, due to new student and teacher evaluation requirements coming from state and federal education departments. And those changes are not likely to be popular, Mr. Weiss warned.

“I think we have to either lengthen the school day or the school year, because we keep cramming more and more into the same size package, and it’s bursting at the seams,” he said. “We want to give our kids more, but there just isn’t time to do it.

“The problem with that is it either costs money or you have to negotiate it,” Mr. Weiss added. “But I think we need to look at that.”

In addition to his self-evaluation, Mr. Weiss also provided a three-page review of the 2010-2011 school year (available at mvtimes.com).

Survey results

AISC members and the superintendent’s cabinet, composed of school administrators and central office administrators, evaluated Mr. Weiss in a survey (available online at mvtimes.com).

As the chairman of the AISC’s personnel subcommittee, Dan Cabot of West Tisbury compiled the survey data and summarized the findings. Mr. Cabot, who is also the AISC chairman, presented the survey findings at last week’s meeting.

“As in past years, Dr. Weiss almost always meets or exceeds expectations on almost every line, from most of the people who were responding to the poll,” Mr. Cabot said. “This year, there was no response from either the school committee or the superintendent’s cabinet that said he failed to meet one of the expectations.”

The superintendent’s evaluation consisted of a checklist of items under the headings of educational direction, communications, professional, leadership, systemic functions, and school year 2010-2011. There were six possible responses for each item, ranging from “fails to meet expectations,” to “exceeds expectations.”

School committee discussion

Two-thirds of the school committee members’ responses, or about 67 percent, indicated that Mr. Weiss always meets or exceeds expectations. Mr. Cabot said that figure is down slightly, from 75 percent in 2009 and 2010.

In discussion at the AISC meeting, Priscilla Sylvia of Oak Bluffs suggested that perhaps the survey response choices, especially “exceeds expectations,” need some retooling.

“I think the personnel board needs to talk about if you always do something and you do it well, how can you exceed that,” she said.

Mr. Cabot agreed. “It’s really interesting, because the percentage of ‘exceeds expectations’ is down a little bit, and I think it’s because once he behaves in a certain way for a number of years, you have an expectation that he’s going to do that the next year,” he pointed out.

Mr. Weiss received a high number of “always meets expections” and “exceeds expectations” from both the AISC and cabinet under the categories of communications, systemic functions, and school year.

“What stands out in particular is in the school year goals for 2010, that’s the last item on the poll, there were some learning initiatives which included the professional learning communities, English/language arts, and math,” Mr. Cabot said. “And those were the most of our ‘no basis for judgment’ responses from the school committee. In other words, somebody’s not telling us, or not telling enough of us, what’s going on.”

Ms. Sylvia disagreed. “There are some areas that are not under the purview of a school committee member, and they are under the purview of the cabinet,” she pointed out. “I wouldn’t be expected as a school committee member to have knowledge of a cabinet role, nor should I.”

She suggested the superintendent’s evaluation survey should separate out the school committee’s role and responsibilities from the cabinet’s.

“On the basis of the English/language arts and math, since that was a priority that we voted on as a priority for the following year, I think we should know something about that, even though we’re not in the cabinet,” Mr. Cabot said.

Self-scrutiny

In response to the school committee’s comments, Mr. Weiss said he agreed that he and his staff did not communicate enough about learning initiatives in English/language arts and math, and that they should do so.

In addition to the possibility of longer or additional school days, Mr. Weiss said a second change he thinks is necessary is additional professional development opportunities for Island educators.

“I think we have to move back to a situation where we’re providing — and it will happen in the contract — quality professional education for our staff so it gives them things they need to be, and continue to be, the dynamite people that they are,” he said.

In his review of the current school year, Mr. Weiss noted that the Island’s public schools made a quantum leap forward with the implementation of a new teacher evaluation and supervision system, the Professional Growth System.

“We’re going to now have to make a much larger quantum leap forward again, to stay in line with what the state and federal government is asking us to do, tie teacher performance to student growth,” he told the school committee. “And to collect data and be able to use that data in a positive way is going to take some changes.”

Several AISC members took the opportunity to compliment Mr. Weiss.

“I think we’re very lucky,” Colleen McAndrews of Tisbury told him. “Everybody knows your excitement for the schools and the kids; it’s just amazing. So thank you for everything you do.”

As a next step, Mr. Weiss will set goals for the 2011-2012 school year to present to the AISC. After discussion with Mr. Weiss, the committee narrows the list down and then votes to select those its members consider a priority.

Mr. Weiss’s current contract runs through the 2012-2013 school year. In 2009, the AISC agreed to his proposal that he forego a scheduled four-percent raise that year, extend his multi-year contract by two years, and apply the wage increase over the additional years.

“I enjoy working here on the Island,” Mr. Weiss told the school committee. “I like what I do; I want to continue to do it.”