Poor Evaluation Prompts Superintendent to Defend His Legacy

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Superintendent Everett “Bill” Olsen and School Committee Chair Avery Adam have locked horns over his 2020 evaluation, presented to the public at the June 1 meeting.

“…for 49 years, I’ve had 48 excellent evaluations and this is the first unsatisfactory evaluation that I’ve ever had,” Olsen said. “Something’s wrong here and it needs to be fixed and I think some questions need to be asked…”

Westford Superintendent Everett “Bill” Olsen. File photo

But Adam did not back away from the unflattering evaluation she and the other School Committee members gave to Olsen.

“The School Committee was tasked with evaluating the last year of employment,” she said. “A poor performance review is not what anyone strives for and there was no need to rehash the areas of concern.”

Olsen acknowledged a need to improve in some areas, but he disagreed with several other issues that led to low grades.

“I don’t agree with the comments on the budget, on the fifth grade camp, on the (school) start times, on redistricting,” he said. “I have a very, very different perspective I think, supported by information and data, on those.” The fifth grade camp was an environmental program that connected students to nature in a secluded wooded area of town. In the past school year, Assistant Superintendent Kerry Clery had recommended a program that focused on providing a series of different experiences for the students that were not solely environmental. It spawned opposition among parents.

Olsen called the comments accompanying the evaluation “mean-spirited and disrespectful, and condescending.”

Adam said she remained objective while evaluating him.

Avery Adam. WESTFORDCAT FILE PHOTO

“I know that my evaluation of him was done objectively on performance and not subjectively of the person,” she said. [CONTINUE READING BELOW]

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SCHOOL COMMITTEE COMMENTS FOR 2020

Overall Evaluation 2020 (Click here)

Olsen’s ratings dropped in 2020 as compared to the 2019 evaluation.

EXAMPLE 1: Superintendent’s Performance Rating for Standard III: Community and Family Engagement

The education leader promotes the learning and growth of all students and the success of all staff by nurturing and sustaining a districtwide culture of reflexive practice, high expectations and continuous learning for staff. The initials represent School Committee members Avery Adam, Megan Eckroth, Sean Kelly, Alicia Mallon, Gloria Miller, Chris Sanders, and MingQuan Zheng

COMMENTS and ANALYSIS (recommended for any overall rating; required for overall rating of Exemplary, Needs Improvement or Unsatisfactory):

AA: This year’s was riddled with lack of supervision, lack of discipline and even lack of layoff notices. Important committees, like Diversity and Inclusion, did not meet. Most egregious was the use of professional email and resources for personal and political gain.

The education leader promotes the learning and growth of all students and the success of all staff by nurturing and sustaining a districtwide culture of reflexive practice, high expectations and continuous learning for staff. The initials represent School Committee members Avery Adam, Megan Eckroth, Sean Kelly, Alicia Mallon, Gloria Miller, Chris Sanders, and MingQuan Zheng

COMMENTS and ANALYSIS (recommended for any overall rating; required for overall rating of Exemplary, Needs Improvement or Unsatisfactory):

AA: This year’s was riddled with lack of supervision, lack of discipline and even lack of layoff notices. Important committees, like Diversity and Inclusion, did not meet. Most egregious was the use of professional email and resources for personal and political gain.

ME: Districtwide culture is something that needs to be nurtured and sustained and this has not been done consistently, or effectively, by the Superintendent over the past year. While cultural proficiency is something that is displayed and championed in pockets throught our district, it is the responsibility of the Superintendent to set the standard and expectation for a professional culture district-wide. The “Shared Vision” Focus indicator IV-E is one that the Superintendent has identified under several of his goals, and I see little evidence that all stakeholders (parents, community, staff, school committee, town boards and committees) are included in district-wide conversations and decision-making in a timely and consistent manner. Examples of this include the preliminary budget and budget discussions, redistricting discussions, start time discussions, and 5th grade Grade Camp discussions. We cannot continue to encounter these huge impact topics with surprise, frustration, and lack of support information, as it is extremely detrimental to the culture of our school system.

SK: I weigh the “Commitment to High Standards” aspect of this category of performance very high. Bill exceeds here. Bill expects all his staff to perform at a high level and the staff all seem to grasp that concept. I also find Bill to be open to criticism by his staff and he handles that well.

AM: There were several miscommunications this year surrounding the budget and the proposed cuts. Staff members whose positions were proposed to be cut were not informed prior to the publication of budget materials. In addition, the Diversity and Inclusion Team did not meet and was therefore unavailable for consultation. The collaboration with NVTHS was carried over again, and incomplete in part due to scheduling coming after the shutdown.

GM: Several emails were mistakenly sent to a large group of recipients when it was not appropriate to do so. Some communications went unanswered without an appropriate explanation. Several staff members were not notified of potential employment changes in a timely and professional manner. Lack of follow-up is a persistent issue and Committee members often have to repeatedly request information before receiving a response. Procedural safeguards need to be put in place to avoid such issues in the future. Discord with the Committee resulted in a public controversy that was disruptive to the entire school community. When there were undoubtedly mistakes made on both sides, the Superintendent should have taken measures to insulate the staff from this situation. Improved communication with the Committee must be instituted to promote healthier collaboration in the future.

CS: In a lot of ways, Standard IV is the most important as it acts as a foundation for everything a district leader does to meet the other three standards. The Superintendent is an effective communicator, especially when speaking to the public or to people one-on-one. That notwithstanding there were concerning communications this year from the Superintendent around a conflict with a parent. We require our leaders to engage in (and model for the other staff) effective conflict management and respectful communication. This is especially true about any and all communications with parents, who must be made to feel their child will be treated kindly and equitably in Westford public schools. The Superintendent has high standards for the district and I believe the administrators and staff of Westford public schools feel empowered to look for ways to improve instructional methods, operational procedures, etc. What I’d like to see more effectively formed and communicated, is that shared vision piece: what are the strengths of the district, what are the weaknesses and where do we need to be headed? I felt that the Diversity and Inclusive Team was one effective way for the district to be self-reflective and to help shape the vision of where we’re headed; I was hoping to hear from the team this year and look forward to their contributions going forward.

MZ: Diversity committee hasn’t met in the school year. For any desired vision of the school system there needs to have concrete steps to achieve them and should be measured against. And in this year various conflicts are not being managed well causing turmoil in town and (the) entire school system. Staff interaction needs to improve especially in difficult situations.

A year earlier, Olsen’s evaluation by most of the same board members was complementary and positive. But member Megan Eckroth, who is not running for a second three-year term this month, made no apologies for her criticism of Olsen’s recent performance, sending the following statement to WestfordCAT:

“As for any disparity between prior evaluations, differences are to be expected for a number of reasons. The Superintendent’s goals and measurement criteria change annually, and as such annual evaluations are never cumulative.

They are meant to reflect the performance of ONLY the prior year. There have been instances where the Bill has indicated a goal as being multi-year, but any related actions and measurement criteria will be for that year only,” Eckroth continued. “Additionally, the need to be completely objective is highlighted by the fact that the evaluators can change year to year, depending on who is elected to the committee and when their term starts and ends. It is the responsibility of every School Committee member to approach the Summative Evaluation with objective analysis, using the same set of data and criteria as all other members.”

SCHOOL COMMITTEE COMMENTS FOR 2019

OVERALL EVALUATION 2019 (CLICK HERE)

Olsen’s 2019 summative evaluation came in with rankings of proficient and exemplary.

EXAMPLE 2: Superintendent’s 2019 Performance Rating for Standard III: Professional and Culture

The following comments from 2019’s evaluation were made by Avery Adam, Alicia Mallon, Chris Sanders, Gloria Miller, and Eckroth. MingQuan Zheng did not comment and Sean Kelly was elected in 2019.

AA: The Diversity Committee was a great first step. I want to see the work continue and reach out further. Something as simple as the calendar needed to be reviewed for diversity/inclusion. Again communication is critical. The SC can be an advocate when given the information.

AM: Superintendent Olsen’s commitment to high standards and making Westford a district willing to evolve is excellent. While there is always room for improvement, the support and encouragement from the Superintendent are essential.

CS: Bill sets the tone when it comes to communication, collaboration, and professionalism in the district, and it’s reflected in all of the students and employees in the district.

GM: Again, exemplary. In particular, the ongoing efforts of the Diversity and Inclusion Team to enhance cultural proficiency across the district has been outstanding.

ME: The Diversity and Inclusion Committee, several reviews of the school calendar, updated homework policies recognizing cultural and religious observances, and events such as Diversity Day at Westford Academy were all steps toward a more culturally proficient school system. That said, I’d like to see more communication to families and staff reinforcing the support of our diverse student body and their families when it comes to these initiatives.

MZ: (left blank)

The Back Story

Olsen, who has worked in education for 49 years in Lowell and Westford, had requested a one-year extension of his ending three-year contract months earlier, but received no response for almost seven  months, he said. On Jan. 23, member Chris Sanders and Chair Avery Adam paid him a visit and informed him that the contract wouldn’t be renewed, he said. With legal assistance, Olsen was eventually granted a one-year contract extension.

“One person at this table has a total of 15 minutes in private executive sessions negotiations. And that’s myself,” Olsen said. “It’s a difficult job to be a School Committee member. But what rises to the level of concern of some, does not rise to the level of concern of others.”

Adam denied that Olsen had never learned of the committee members’ concerns about his performance.

“He also commented that he had never heard about our concerns, yet he attended and participated in numerous Executive Sessions, reviewing the concerns listed,” she said.

Powers and Duties

According to Massachusetts General Law, the School Committee is charged with supervising the superintendent. The members are empowered by Massachusetts law to select and terminate the employee. The administrator creates and approves budgets for the school district and sets educational goals and policies.

Olsen, who spoke for about 20 minutes at the committee meeting on June 1, said he believed he’s been treated unfairly because the committee wants to replace him with another superintendent.

“I understand that,” he said. “…It happens in different school systems across the country, but there are two ways to go about that…what most committees even in Westford would do to long-term successful staff members is say we know you’re approaching retirement. We’d like to sit down with you or talk to you about your needs, your horizon and we’d like to convey to you what’s important to us.”

Olsen is credited with leading the school system to statewide recognition. This year, Niche.com ranked the Westford Public School District first in the state. U.S. News ranked Westford Academy 15th in the state this year.

Adam ended the June 1 meeting with a brief replay.

“I look forward to working toward mediation and hoping we can get to a level ground…so thank you,” she said.

 

 

 

 

UPDATES: A line that stated the school district typically ranks in the top 20 percent of MCAS testing was deleted. The ranking is not clear.

The section under Powers and Duties was attributed to Massachusetts General Laws.