Last Updated: March 20, 2023
In an independent school, one of the primary sets of responsibilities for the board of trustees is the hiring, nurturing, and evaluating of the head of school. The evaluation, when done correctly, enhances communication between the head and board around the school’s strategic goals. It establishes common goals for the year and utilizes appropriate assessments for measuring progress on these goals.
Guiding Principles for Effective Head of School Evaluations
The head of school evaluation process should be structured to focus on areas relevant to the board’s expectations of the head.
The evaluation of the head is solely the responsibility of the board and should never be relegated to stakeholders outside of the board. It is appropriate to assess key constructs for which the head might be held responsible; however, these assessments should be undertaken with an understanding that no one outside of the board has a vote in the evaluation.
Boards should be specific in identifying the goals and objectives to be used in the evaluation process. Upon defining these items, a plan to assess them in a reliable and valid manner is important.
Clearly stated goals and areas of evaluation should be defined prior to the year for which the head will be evaluated. As much as possible the goals should be developed jointly by the board and the head; regardless, the head’s evaluation should be conducted on areas that have been defined in advance.
Beyond the established goals, it is expected that the head will act in a legal and ethical manner. It also is expected that the head will adhere to board policies regarding the administration of all school business.
At times, the board may wish to evaluate the head on various factors about which the board may not have direct knowledge, but which are important to mission fulfillment and fall within the head’s general responsibility. These factors might include the following:
The assessment of these areas is a process that should remain separate from the head’s evaluation even though the results in these areas contribute to the head’s evaluation. For example, if the board agrees that faculty morale is important to fulfilling the school’s mission, this area could be included as one of the criteria on which the head is evaluated. However, an assessment of faculty morale should be undertaken separately from the head’s evaluation process to underscore the clear message that no one outside of the board has a vote in the evaluation.
There are various ways that data can be gathered in assessing those factors that are outside the board’s direct knowledge, including the following:
Developing the Evaluation Process
In general, an effective evaluation process should include the following steps:
The Head of School Evaluation Survey
Surveys are often administered to individual trustees seeking their ratings of the head’s performance on several items. (See a sample survey below.) The areas represented on this survey should either be ones for which the trustee has direct knowledge, or an informed knowledge based on data gathered from pre-established methods. The evaluation survey should likely include the following areas:
Sample Evaluation Timeline
The following is a sample yearlong timeline for the elements of a head of school evaluation:
The guiding principles and suggested timeline above and sample survey below were originally developed by Steve Robinson, former SAIS president (2017-2015), with Damian Kavanagh, former SAIS vice president (2010-2017). The document was later revised by Kirk Walker, former SAIS president (2015-2019)
Sample Head of School Evaluation Survey can be found at the end of the downloadable PDF.