1. The Education Gradebook

Survey shows employees praise, fear Hernando School Superintendent Romano

BROOKSVILLE — Two years after Hernando School District leaders suggested an employee-based evaluation of Superintendent Lori Romano, the results — showing feedback both positive and not so — are now public.

Some responses praised the superintendent's firmly set vision to get the district to an "A'' rating and her ability to present well to the public. Meanwhile, others called for her resignation, criticizing her lack of transparency and communication skills, and calling her administration style "fear-based."

The overall average rating of Romano's performance was a 2.86 out of 5, according to a report prepared by University of South Florida professor George MacDonald, who facilitated the evaluation for an $11,000 fee.

More than 940 employees submitted the voluntary survey. MacDonald analyzed the answers in relation to "superintendent competencies" as identified by the American Association of School Administrators.

"It would be nice if the rating was higher," said board member Susan Duval, a retired school administrator. "But what is important is that these results are a reflection of our employees and that is paramount for me."

Romano scored lowest on the communication and community relations category. The report called it an "area of concern." While more than 60 percent of respondents said she effectively communicates information to parents, only 28 percent agreed the superintendent effectively communicates with teachers.

She scored highest in values and ethics of leadership. Fifty-three percent of respondents said she "balances community concerns and the best interest of students" and nearly 57 percent said she promotes the district's mission and vision. Still, less than half agreed that Romano "models appropriate moral leadership."

Romano drew good ratings for promoting high standards for staff and teachers and her ability to delegate responsibility. The lowest ratings largely were related to her communication with everyone from reporters to staff to teachers and school volunteers, the report said.

"Depending on their role, (employees) have a different opinion of her effectiveness" as a leader,'' MacDonald told the School Board on Tuesday.

Those in higher-level positions gave more favorable responses.

"(Administrators) rate the superintendent's performance higher than instructional, non-instructional and district staff," the report said.

Answers to the survey's two free-response questions totaled more than 90 pages.

One question asked, "In what areas is the superintendent especially effective?''

Responses pointed out Romano's understanding of school policy, her push toward data-driven education, her politeness and professionalism. Many said she is "effective at building partnerships" with local government agencies and other community stakeholders and noted her commitment toward achieving an "A'' grade.

The second question asked where the superintendent needed improvement.

Many reported feeling that Romano has "eliminated competent staff . . . for no good reason because she was threatened by them or disagreed with them."

Many also reported problems with Romano's transparency and communication, specifically with teachers, and complained about her not visiting schools enough. Others said they have lost trust in her and feel it cannot be regained, the report said.

MacDonald said "many'' is defined by more than 15 respondents.

A concluding summary said surveys showed Romano advocated for her own salary increase while pushing off raises for teachers and "has created an atmosphere of fear and retaliation for those that speak out against her," the report said. Some groups "think the time has come for her to leave the district or be relieved of her duties."

For most of the presentation, Romano listened quietly with her head facing downward toward a copy of the report. With a pen in one hand and a green highlighter in the other, she marked pages as MacDonald spoke.

At the end of the meeting, Romano responded by thanking the researchers and listing the ways she has succeeded during her four years in the district.

Romano said student attendance, graduation rates, and industry certifications have improved while the drop-out rate has declined during her tenure. All four categories are "indicators for performance'' under her contract. Romano just concluded the first year of a four-year contract.

Still, Romano acknowledged the negative feedback saying she wants to "continue to improve and grow."

Board members defended the superintendent, saying some of the ratings may be a reflection of overall district operations rather than Romano alone. Board chair Beth Narverud said she hoped to use the evaluation, as well as a possible second survey that the board will soon discuss, as a "road map to improve."

Contact Megan Reeves at Follow @mareevs.