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Hernando superintendent, USF clarify focus of performance survey

“This is the third time we’ve asked for these changes to be made. They haven’t given us a reason; they just haven’t done it.”
Lori Romano, superintendent
“This is the third time we’ve asked for these changes to be made. They haven’t given us a reason; they just haven’t done it.” Lori Romano, superintendent
Published Apr. 12, 2017

BROOKSVILLE — The long-delayed plan to allow Hernando County School District employees to rate the performance of superintendent Lori Romano got back on track this week after the district smoothed over differences with a University of South Florida professor hired to create the survey.

"I called it a meeting of clarification," said School Board Chairwoman Beth Narverud, who met with Romano and USF professor George MacDonald on Monday.

The so-called 360 survey, which board members have discussed for nearly two years, was delayed most recently because of a conflict over whether its questions should focus on Romano's work or that of the district as a whole.

USF also complained that the district had not sent the school email addresses needed to conduct the survey, despite several requests. On Monday, Romano agreed to do so "very soon," Narverud said.

And Narverud said the survey would address Romano's performance.

The conflict simmered behind the scenes for months before coming to a head at a March 21 School Board workshop.

Romano suggested that USF had been dragging its feet in creating a survey, which would allow both instructional and noninstructional employees to rate Romano's performance — information board members would be able to use in her evaluation.

"This is the third time we've asked for these changes to be made," Romano said at the workshop. "They haven't given us a reason; they just haven't done it."

Actually, the university had given a reason, MacDonald, director of USF's Center for Research, Evaluation, Assessment, and Measurement, said last week: Romano and her staffers asked for a different survey than the one he was hired by the School Board to produce — one rating the performance of the district rather than of the superintendent.

"We rejected the superintendent's feedback that it be focused on the district," MacDonald said. "The contract is for a superintendent 360 feedback instrument."

But Romano said she raised objections to the survey because it was changed before a draft was presented to the School Board in January.

These changes were described in a March 9 email from a senior researcher in MacDonald's department, Reginald Lee.

"Note the 'refocus' statement' " in Lee's email, Romano wrote in response to questions from the Times.

Lee, in his email, said the survey was altered not to change the subject of its questions, but to make them more specific. A previous version asked about general "competencies" such as "Policy and Governance," while revised questions address performance on duties such as "Lead and Manage Personnel."

Documents included with MacDonald's January presentation show these new questions were based on the work of Daniel Stufflebeam, a University of Western Michigan professor who pioneered superintendent surveys.

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Romano did not object to the survey at the time, but at last month's workshop called it "a very weak instrument." And deputy superintendent Gina Michalicka said it asked questions of employees, such as kindergarten teachers, who have little contact with Romano.

They would not be in position to judge how well Romano communicates, but would be able to rate how well the district communicates.

"Is that kindergarten teacher's information coming from the superintendent?" she asked.

But board discussions have described the document as a survey regarding the superintendent since board member Susan Duval brought up the idea in 2015. And all district documents relating to the survey — including USF's June 2016 invoice of $11,000 for the work — identify it as focusing on the "superintendent."

Board members originally expected to have results from the survey before deciding whether to grant Romano a new contract, which they did in January 2016.

Narverud said this week she expects the survey results to be ready for Romano's upcoming annual evaluation, even if the evaluation must be pushed back from its usual date in May.

The board discussed the survey at least five times in workshops and informal meetings between October 2015 and March 2016.

Duval originally prepared a survey based on models from organizations including the National School Boards Association. Romano agreed with the idea, but asked for a more formal, science-backed approach and invited MacDonald to present a proposal to the board in February 2016.

"She suggested it," Narverud said last week, speaking of USF's hiring.

When Duval heard Romano say last month that the survey should assess the district's performance, "I didn't know where that was coming from," Duval said last week. "That had not been a part of what we had been talking about since 2015. It was a strange turn of events for me."

Duval also said it is appropriate for employees to judge the superintendent — not just for the benefit of board members, she said, but for Romano's.

"It's not always comfortable. Doing it at Springstead (High School) was scary," said Duval, who said she was helped by a similar survey while serving as principal at Springstead.

But, she said, "you're not going to get better if you don't know what the problems are. I call them opportunities for growth, personally and professionally."

Contact Dan DeWitt at ddewitt@tampabay.com; follow @ddewitttimes.