Pinellas superintendent Julie Janssen's decision to stick by an embattled administrator eroded her support among School Board members, their latest evaluations show.
In eight of nine categories, Janssen got lower marks than she did in the board's first evaluations from January. But the drop was steepest in human resources management.
Janssen came under fire last month for trying to move Janet Hernandez, a director accused of creating a "climate of fear" in the professional development office, to another key job in dropout prevention.
In a rare no vote, the board rejected the recommendation 5-2. But Hernandez — a friend of Janssen's from graduate school — is now under investigation for another matter. And her ongoing, lightning-rod stint in the district has several board members questioning Janssen's handling of employment issues.
"Allowing friendships to impact decisions so much is bothersome to me," said board chairwoman Janet Clark, who gave Janssen the lowest marks of any member. "I don't know how much more blunt I can be."
Janssen said she expected to get dinged on that part of the evaluation, but was surprised by some of the other ratings.
"It's a little bit disconcerting," said Janssen, who was hired in September 2008. "It makes you stop and think, 'What did I miss along the way?' "
She said shortcomings in human resources will be addressed soon, with the district on the verge of hiring a new assistant superintendent. As for the other areas, she said she has not yet met with board members to find out what specifically they see going wrong — and what their proposed solutions may be.
"I have to do better," she said. "I have to convince them that we really are moving forward."
Overall, the board gave Janssen satisfactory scores. But on a 1-5 scale, the average dropped from 3.92 in January to 3.44 now. In the human resources category, they fell from 3.71 to 2.57.
"My confidence is lacking in the direction we're heading," said Clark, who among other issues wants more focus on middle schools. "I just think she and I, we don't have the same ideas for the goals we need to reach for the district."
"I have confidence in her, yes," said board member Mary Brown, whose ratings of Janssen dropped the most. "But if this thing is going to turn around, some serious changes need to be made (with personnel) and you have to hold people accountable."
Brown declined to be specific, except to say she was referring to both district-level and school-level administrators. She also said all job openings need to be advertised — something that did not happen with either Janet Hernandez or Kevin Hendrick, the former Northeast High principal who Janssen named director of high schools.
It's been a rocky year for Janssen.
The superintendent was criticized for her handling of student discipline at John Hopkins Middle School and for not communicating well with either parents or board members on a proposal to change school start times. She had to make ends meet as the district sliced its budget for a fifth year in a row. And under her watch, three more high schools were put under intense state oversight.
On the flip side, board members are praising Janssen for a far-reaching proposal, unveiled last month, to give more students access to top-notch academic programs. That plan has upset pockets of parents, but the board remains supportive.
"Superintendent is one of the toughest jobs in the county. Everyone's a critic," said board member Carol Cook. "She doesn't need to pack her bags. But there are things she needs to work on."
Board member Peggy O'Shea gave Janssen the highest marks — all 4s and 5s. The superintendent is strong with curriculum planning and instructional leadership, she said, and has a realistic view of the district's strengths and weaknesses.
"She keeps a big-picture perspective but is able to drill down and develop initiatives to meet the needs of specific schools and students," she wrote.
Board member Robin Wikle's scores were generally high and the most consistent over the two evaluations. Janssen is a visionary with curriculum and has a remarkable work ethic, Wikle wrote. "She does strive to find common ground in dealing with difficult and divisive issues," she continued.
Ron Matus can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8873.