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Hernando Schools Superintendent Bryan Blavatt gets good grades for first year

BROOKSVILLE — For the most part, Hernando school superintendent Bryan Blavatt is doing a good job.

That's the general consensus of the School Board based on written evaluations each member filled out in recent days at Blavatt's one-year mark. On average, Blavatt was generally rated as outstanding or effective in the 51 bullet points under seven general areas on the evaluation form.

He was rated by a somewhat different board than the one that hired him, however. Three board members – Chairman James Yant, Dianne Bonfield and John Sweeney – were on the board at the time.

Member Cynthia Moore took office last November. Former member Pat Fagan, who also was on the board that hired Blavatt, resigned in March and Gov. Rick Scott is expected to appoint a replacement in the coming weeks.

The evaluation form asks board members to rate Blavatt using a nine-point scale within general ratings of "needs attention," "effective" and "outstanding." Among the overall categories are ethics and leadership, management, student achievement, and employee relations.

Board member John Sweeney is so pleased with Blavatt that he gave the superintendent the highest rating in every one of the 51 markers, though he clarified during Tuesday's workshop that he used the "nine" as a default rating for areas on which he feels it's still too early to judge Blavatt.

"I have to say without any hesitation that Bryan Blavatt fits right into the top leaders I have worked with," Sweeney said.

Board members praised Blavatt's ability to communicate with the public and staff and his visibility at school functions.

"I do believe we're seen in a much more positive light than we had been in the months prior to Mr. Blavatt arriving," Bonfield said.

Moore said she did not rate Blavatt in some areas and at the level of specificity required by the form because she's only been in office for six months.

Based on her experience so far, though, "I think he's done a great job," Moore said.

Bonfield and Yant were the most critical.

Bonfield said Blavatt needs to do a better job ensuring "certain staff is respectful and accountable." He needs to show better judgment when handling difficult situations and keep the board better informed, Bonfield wrote.

"School boards in Florida tend to be very proactive, very much involved, because we are paid," Bonfield said during Tuesday's workshop. From personnel to budget issues to pilot programs in schools, "I would like that communication instead of reading it in the newspaper."

Yant agreed. He also said Blavatt needs to practice his poker face and more seriously consider input.

Under the leadership and ethics category, Yant wrote: "The superintendent has a great deal to offer in this area but his emotional expressions lessens his effectiveness."

Blavatt "seems to disregard sound advice at times," Yant wrote.

"What I've seen so far has been positive," Yant said Tuesday, but could use a "few tweaks here and there."

A veteran administrator new to Florida, Blavatt has made it clear that the board here could use a better understanding of the roles of the board to set policy and the top executive to enact it. But he acknowledged Tuesday that he has to improve in that area, too.

"Sometimes I get a little confused," he told the board. "I'm hopeful that will get better."

Blavatt submitted a seven-page list of specific actions he's taken in each category to save money, improve student performance and set an overall tone of "advancement, not status quo" in the district.

He has not requested any changes to his contract, which pays him $130,000 a year, but he did ask the board to create in the coming year a better evaluation that takes into account student performance data and other concrete markers. He has said in the past he's willing to base some of his salary on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test results and other benchmarks.

"Measurable outcomes, as opposed to whether I smile enough or whether I'm making everyone happy," Blavatt said. "I think my performance should be based on data and the accomplishments I've made based on what I said I would do."

Board members agreed that a new evaluation system is needed.

The coming weeks will be a telling time for Blavatt's leadership.

FCAT scores, which will indicate how much students learned this year, start arriving today,. Efforts to bridge what is expected to be a multimillion-dollar budget gap for 2012 will soon begin in earnest.

"It is a perfect time to have a seasoned and effective leader at the helm," Sweeney said.

In other action, the board:

• Discussed another round of glowing evaluations for board attorney Paul Carland. It was bittersweet, though, since Carland will be leaving in the coming weeks to serve as general counsel for the Broward County School District.

• Reached an informal consensus to rename the STAR Education Center. The new name, pending a formal vote later this month, will be the Endeavor Academy.

STAR is short for "Students at Risk," and while the alternative school in Brooksville will still serve students with discipline and attendance issues, Blavatt and district staff formed a committee to come up with a new name that reflects the school's focus burgeoning role as an online education center. Endeavor was the top choice in a vote by STAR students and staff.

Tony Marrero can be reached at (352) 848-1431 or tmarrero@sptimes.com.

Hernando Schools Superintendent Bryan Blavatt gets good grades for first year 05/03/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, May 3, 2011 8:22pm]
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