As the Hernando County School Board prepares to launch a second district-wide survey to evaluate Superintendent Lori Romano, the superintendent said the negative portions of the first results were too vague to be of use to her.
Released in July, the results show Romano’s overall average rating by district employees was 2.86 on a scale of 1 to 5. While some respondents praised her performance, others noted a lack of transparency and communication, and some called her leadership style "fear-based." Some also called for her resignation.
Romano said most of the critical comments were "very difficult to understand." The survey was facilitated by a University of South Florida professor for an $11,000 fee approved by the School Board.
"I can only take information that I can do something with," she told the Tampa Bay Times last week.
In recent months, the superintendent has said that the School Board should evaluate her instead on the four "indicators of performance" included in her contract: student attendance, graduation rates, industry certifications and the drop-out rate. All have improved under her leadership.
Board Chairman Mark Johnson said he agreed with Romano that the survey results weren’t specific enough for a full improvement plan, but said it provided enough information to establish a baseline.
"She does need to maintain a pulse of the district," Johnson said. "If she doesn’t understand the thoughts and problems of people on the front lines, how can she expect the district to improve?"
Romano said she read the comments and feedback, but "we don’t have any data to support that to know how to fix something that is so vague and nebulous."
But the 37-page survey report — prepared by the professor and discussed twice with Romano and the School Board during public meetings earlier this year — did include data in the form of graphs, charts and percentage points.
The survey was completed by 940 of the district’s nearly 3,000 employees, the superintendent said.
The 52 multiple-choice questions rated her on nine "superintendent competency" categories outlined by the American Association of School Administrators.
Romano scored lowest on the communication and community relations category, which the report called an "area of concern."
More than 60 percent of respondents said Romano effectively communicates with parents, but only 28 percent said she effectively communicates with teachers. The survey also included free-response questions.
Romano told the Times she has not changed the way she communicates with teachers, because "my focus on my teachers has always been a priority."
"When you think about an organization with 3,000 employees, the superintendent is probably four or five steps removed from teachers," she said. Administrators should serve as messengers between her and instructors, she added.
Romano defended her communication efforts by pointing to weekly school visits, a monthly district newsletter and her decision to create a communications department in 2014. She also noted her regular updates to the County Commission and said she sends out birthday cards.
Fewer than half of survey respondents agreed that Romano "models appropriate moral leadership." The superintendent said she doesn’t understand what that means.
"What people say in those comments — whether it is five people or 55 people — does have some relevance in terms of taking a step back and looking at the way you’re doing things," Board member Susan Duval told the Times. "I do not understand why it would not be of value to her."
Romano said the district will always have room to improve, but it is up to her how the job gets done.
"We choose to focus on ... my vision and my leadership and how I choose to guide and support," she said. "I’m the superintendent and anybody in this position, as a leader, would have to make very hard decisions that people don’t like."
The School Board unanimously agreed last month to spend $10,000 for a second survey, which will be similar to the first.
At the request of board members, however, it will give Romano "actionable items" to respond to. The specific modifications have not been made public yet.
Johnson said he hopes the results of the second survey give Romano higher marks. Duval said she hopes Romano takes them to heart.
"We need this," Duval said. "It’s a matter of being openly and honestly reflective of what you’ve done and what you’re doing."
Contact Megan Reeves at [email protected] Follow @mareevs.