Jasper County school board gives superintendent satisfactory evaluation

sbowman@beaufortgazette.comDecember 16, 2013 

The Jasper County school board gave superintendent Vashti Washington a satisfactory evaluation at its meeting Monday night, despite the school district's continued poor performance on state and federal standards and many calls for Washington's ouster.

With the evaluation, Washington's $165,000 contract has been extended one year, to now conclude in June 2017. The district also will increase its annual contribution to her annuity from 9 percent of her salary to 12 percent, according to her contract.

This decision came after the board discussed Washington's performance in executive session for more than two hours.

"Our superintendent is doing a great job as superintendent of our school district," board chairwoman Berty Riley said at the end of meeting.

Riley would not comment further. She said the district would send out a statement Tuesday morning explaining the process and some of the criteria used in the evaluation.

Washington, who was hired in Jasper County in 2010, also would not comment after the meeting.

District attorney Ken Childs, of Columbia-based law firm Childs & Halligan, said the board did not fill out any forms in its evaluation of Washington. Rather, the board had a "general discussion," he said.

He said in past years, the district would fill out evaluation forms. When asked why the board no longer did so, Childs said, "Having the evaluation forms resulted in (Freedom of Information Act) demands for the forms, and that became embarrassing for the superintendents, so they don't have forms anymore."

The board will prepare a letter with a summary of members' discussions to provide to Washington for feedback, he said. Whether this letter will include how the board arrived at its satisfactory evaluation is unclear.

Washington faced much scrutiny in recent months after the district scored back-to-back "F" grades on federal accountability standards and the lowest score in the state -- a 27.3 on a 100-point scale.

After scores were released in August, Washington said they "had no meaning" and the results were based on "bad data." However, the district's appeal of its grade to the state Department of Education based on that claim was unsuccessful. The department announced in October that it was upholding the "F."

The school district also was rated "at risk" on the 2013 state report cards. It has not improved from that rating since 2009 and is one of only two districts to receive the "at risk" rating this year. The other is the S.C. Public Charter School District.

In Jasper County, parents and community members organized several rallies in August and September calling for Washington's resignation.

In a poll on The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette websites asking whether readers supported Washington, 15 responded they did, 79 said they did not, and 37 said they weren't sure.

Childs said the school board members are popularly elected and have the responsibility of evaluating the superintendent. However, Denise Davidson, who organized the rallies, has said the community needs to demand better accountability for the students.

She added that she hopes the rallies have put pressure on the school board to address the poor achievement across the district and hold Washington accountable.

However, the school board has shown support for the superintendent, with Riley saying the state grading system uses calculations that paint a misleading portrait of the district, its students and Washington's efforts.

Video: Jasper County School District board meeting, Dec. 16, 2013 (:41)

Survey: Do you support the superintendent?

Follow reporter Sarah Bowman on Twitter at twitter.com/IPBG_Sarah.

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