(Editor's Note: In observance of national Sunshine Week, Morning Journal staff writers were dispatched throughout Columbiana County to obtain the written evaluations of public schools superintendents. These stories are the results of that quest.)
My first stop was the Columbiana school district, where I requested a copy of the last board evaluation of Superintendent Don Mook. The office secretary I spoke with asked me nicely to identify myself, which I politely declined to do since it is not required of anyone seeking public records.
As part of Sunshine Week, a national effort to promote the importance of open government and freedom of information, the Journal sent its reporters out to gather written evaluations of the 11 public school districts in the county.
She then referred me to Treasurer Lori Posey, who recognized me immediately and, after exchanging pleasantries, went straight to Mook's file. Posey could not recall if an evaluation had been performed and she failed to find one in Mook's file.
Posey then went to Mook, who told me he has not undergone a written evaluation since being hired in mid 2009. Board policy states they are to "periodically evaluate" the superintendent's performance but does not establish any timetable for doing so.
Next up was East Palestine, where I again was asked by the office secretary to identify myself before referring me on to Treasurer Rick Ellis, and again I declined to do so. In neither instance did any of the people I came in contact with refuse to provide me with what I requested because I declined to identify myself.
But just like in Columbiana, I was recognized immediately by Ellis, who greeted me and went to Superintendent George Fisk's personnel file and made copies of the latest evaluations performed by the five board members. He said board policy requires a written evaluation of the superintendent be performed every spring.
Fisk was evaluated in five areas - vision and focus, communication and collaboration, policies and governance, learning and teaching, and district management - on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being the highest rating. He received ten 5s, seven 4s and eight 3s, for an average score of 4.08. Five of the 3s scores came from a single board member, and the evaluations are conducted anonymously.
Fisk generally received good marks from his board in all five categories, with his strongest assets appearing to be his administrative skills, leadership, ability to work well with staff and set high goals for the district. Two board members suggested under the communication and collaboration category that Fisk should become more visible throughout all school buildings and in the community.
My final stop was at the Salem school treasurer's office, where a secretary politely asked me to fill out a records request form, which I told her was not required, but I complied anyway since she said that was their policy. In addition to requesting identification, the form asked for the intended usage of the requested records, which is again not required by the law.
I later read the disclaimer at the top of the form (just like a man, I read the directions afterward), and it clearly stated filling out the records request is optional but it may speed up the process.
The staff complied immediately with my request. In fact, before I completed the form, an assistant to the treasurer had already begun making copies of Superintendent Tom Bratten's last evaluation, which was performed in early 2013.
Board policy requires the superintendent be evaluated in January of each year and reviewed with the superintendent at the February board meeting and, if the superintendent chooses, again at the March meeting before it goes into his personnel file. Bratten announced last month he is stepping down at the end of the current school year.
Salem's evaluation asks each board member to grade the superintendent in the following areas: general administration, personnel administration, planning and evaluation, staff development, business management, and school and community relations.
Within those areas, board members are asked to check off which of the following performance grades they agree with: desired level of performance being the highest, followed by minimally acceptable level of performance, unsatisfactory and insufficient information.
According to the 2013 evaluation summary, Bratten received the highest score in each category, although the summary indicated there was still room for improvement.
"Overall, Tom is doing an excellent job. He continues to grow into a strong, visionary leader. Communication is the key to a smooth running operation and hopefully that can improve this year. We need to focus on the goals we set and establish some way of tracking progress," according to the summary.
"With the new treasurer in place hopefully we can refocus on the financial side as well. His willingness to continue to accept constructive criticism and work toward improvement speaks to his character as a quality leader."