Selecting a Director of Education is perhaps the most important decision a school board makes: Research indicates that board members rank CEO (Director) selection as their top, or in the top two or three, decision(s) made during their tenure. Yet most school boards have limited experience recruiting a Director of Education, because this task is done infrequently.
The circumstances under which recruitment occurs varies considerably. If a Director of Education is retiring, you usually have several months’ notice and can make provision for continuity between the retiring and the new Director. If the Director resigns, notice may vary from a few weeks to several months. If a Director leaves for medical reasons, there may be no notice and no opportunity for continuity.
After you begin the search process, here are some steps to consider:
- Creating and using a special Search Committee of the board: often this committee’s membership includes past board members and leaders from the community, as well as trusted wise current board members. Remember, the final selection of a new Director of Education will be made by a vote of the entire board so you should be clear about this committee’s mandate – is it to recommend a single candidate, or to bring you a short list?
- Hiring and using an independent Search firm: there are pros and cons to this, as with using any outside professional advisor, but two big benefits are access to expertise in process, and due diligence in casting the net wide (identifying a larger pool of candidates), so being confident you have the best possible candidate. Even if you have a preferred internal candidate, an external search can validate this choice, and incidentally, build confidence among the rest of the staff in the new Director.
- No one will perfectly fit the profile that you created during the succession planning, instead, you use this profile as a way to narrow the list of candidates down to a workable number to interview. You should have a good discussion about the relative importance of skills, experience, leadership and capabilities sought.
- Interviews: should be well planned out, even scripted, including who will conduct the interviews (usually a couple of committee members first, then the full committee with those shortlisted, then the full board for the final one to three candidates).
Director of Education’s Agreement and Mandate
A formal Employment Agreement between the School Board and the Director of Education makes terms of employment clear: The school board should negotiate and put in place an Employment Agreement with the Director of Education to spell out the terms and conditions of employment.
In addition, the agreement should include a “responsibility mandate” describing role expectations for both the board and Director, and the Director’s authority for decision making.
The agreement should provide for an annual written performance appraisal, and specify salary and benefits. It should also provide a process that will allow employment to be terminated by either party in a way that will not reflect negatively on either party.
Drafting an appropriate contract is complicated and has significant implications; you will want to obtain legal advice.
Director of Education’s Performance Management
Overseeing the Director of Education’s effectiveness is one of your most important and impactful responsibilities on the board, and also one of the most sensitive.
You should be able to see these benefits from a good Director performance management process:
- Important feedback to the Director about their performance, for both the board and Director to identify opportunities to enhance performance and effectiveness.
- An increased understanding of the Director’s concerns and views on the achievement of organizational objectives.
- A forum to build a healthy relationship between the board, especially the Chair, and the Director based on trust and honesty.
- A framework for the Director to further develop capabilities.
- A forum to reinforce accountability, transparency and the responsibilities of the Director.
- An opportunity to identify and address early warning signs of possible difficulties.
- An opportunity to discuss any future plans the Director may have (e.g. retirement).
- A forum to encourage and congratulate the Director for a job well done.
A high level overview of the performance management process for measuring Director of Education performance is illustrated below, with further considerations following. Formal performance reviews should be conducted at least annually, with informal discussions on progress throughout the year, after every board meeting or at least quarterly.
Plan: You will want to consider:
- A consistent process to evaluate the Director’s performance should be agreed upon and approved by the board at the beginning of each year.
- The Director and board should establish a shared understanding of performance expectations, also at the beginning of each year.
- Performance targets should align to the School Board’s Strategic Plan.
- An approved set of targets by both board and Director.
- Director recognition and compensation should be tied to performance.
- The Director should have a clear understanding of what needs to be accomplished in the upcoming year.
- Expectations should be consistent, clear and measurable.
Measure: You will want to consider:
- Both quantitative and qualitative indicators should be included to assess the Director’s leadership behaviour and performance goals, which are fundamental to sustained organization performance.
- Using financial and organizational performance alone are inherently problematic.
- Instead you will want to use a suite of strategic objectives, performance indicators and leadership or individual goals.
- There are numerous factors outside the direct control of the Director that can affect organizational performance.
Report: You will want to consider:
- For the Director of Education performance management process to truly be effective, regular reporting and feedback is necessary.
- Informal discussions and feedback can take place after every board meeting, or at least quarterly.
- The board may also seek input from other sources such as direct reports, Principals, School Community Councils, etc. – but this should be done in consultation with the Director, and agreed at the beginning of the year.
Evaluate: You will want to consider:
- The board may delegate the actual conducting of the annual evaluation to the HR Committee and/or the board Chair.
- A year-end (some also use a mid-term) report should be prepared by the Director to the board with an update of progress toward agreed upon objectives.
- The board should review outcomes related to planned goals. The annual review should be thorough.
- You should encourage and enable the Director to talk to the board about the past year’s performance, and for the board to discuss the Director’s performance among themselves.
- The board should prepare and provide an evaluation along with corresponding feedback to the Director.
- Following review and analysis of the report provided, make sure that feedback is provided to the Director. This may include a written report, or more commonly a discussion with the Director. The board Chair (sometimes with the HR Committee Chair) typically holds this discussion on the board’s behalf.
- If compensation is tied to performance, the Board should also communicate the corresponding impact on the Director’s compensation.
- Feedback should be delivered professionally, with tact.
- Once a thorough evaluation is discussed (and revisions made if called for), it should be reviewed and accepted by both the board and the Director.
- The process and outcomes should be clearly documented and filed.
You will want to be on the look-out for – and avoid – common pitfalls that you may run into in the Director of Education performance management process:
- Subjectivity – evaluations based on feelings rather than facts
- Lack of disciplined approach
- A focus on the negative creating discouragement – better to stress the positive and use those results to encourage and empower the Director to greater accomplishment
- Changing the evaluation criteria after the fact!
- Changing circumstances beyond control: be sensitive to what was within the Director’s control, influence, or neither:
Tying the Director’s Evaluation to Compensation
You may want to organize your Director’s annual performance evaluation into three parts:
And then to use these to inform your choices around the Director’s compensation for the coming year:
Agreeing on the Director’s compensation each year can be a difficult conversation, both inside the boardroom and then with the Director. You will want to keep these practical tips in mind:
Follow the annual performance review and feedback (as illustrated above): agree on any change to base pay and incentive payout, based on the Director’s actual performance for the year compared to their responsibility mandate and performance objectives. You (the board) and Director should have agreed to a clear process, performance objectives and incentive metrics and targets (thresholds, caps) at the beginning of the year, so these should largely be straight-forward arithmetic calculations.
Understand Director compensation parameters, and stay within these:
- Provincial mandates / ranges / incentive design
- Understand where you have authority – exercise it!!
- Where does your Director fall within the range – and why?
- Use what is within your control
- Get metrics and targets right
- Incentive intended to “support organizational change”
- Beware of unintended consequences
- Always stress test the metrics and targets
- Optics and “smell” test
You may want to set a portion of the Director’s compensation at the board’s discretion, rather than tied to pre-agreed objectives. If so, negotiate and agree on this at the beginning of the year, including the process the board will use to set this portion. Usually the discretionary portion will be about 15%, no more than 25 or 30%, with the majority of compensation changes based on objective criteria.
Here are some closing tips to help you get the most out of your relationship with the Director of Education:
- Treat your Director with respect – they work tirelessly and are often underappreciated
- Expect great things of your Director – acknowledge them when they are achieved and push them when they are not
- Be open and direct – just like boards, Directors do not like surprises – they want to succeed – their success depends on your oversight role