Beaufort Co. schools superintendent scores high on his first evaluation by board

Beaufort County School District’s new superintendent Frank Rodriguez got two votes of confidence Tuesday night: In addition to the school bond referendum passing, Rodriguez received high marks in his 90-day evaluation from the Board of Education, his first since starting at the district in July.

Board chairwoman Christina Gwozdz told the audience at Tuesday’s board meeting that Rodriguez had been scored as “effective to highly effective” overall during the board’s closed-session Oct. 30 evaluation.

“I think he’s doing a fabulous job,” Gwozdz said Wednesday.

Rodriguez was evaluated across five categories, using 28 questions pulled from the 90-day plan he presented to the board while interviewing for the superintendent job.

The scores for each category of the evaluation ranged from 2.96 to 3.59 on a scale of 1 to 4, with 4 being the best; his overall score was 3.21.

“I think the results show he did a pretty darn good job in community relations,” board member David Striebinger said Wednesday. “Most of the other things I thought he did well. Not excessively well, but well.”

His highest mark was community relations and his lowest was staff relations. He scored as effective on three other criteria: governance and board relations; business and finance; and instructional leadership.

“What’s important with evaluations is it gives you a chance to look at where you are and where you’ve been,” Rodriguez said Wednesday. “It’s a chance for growth and improvement, and I view it through that lens.”

‘I’ve done more tours than the Rolling Stones’

The evaluation was one of two victories for the former Palm Beach, Fla. educator that night — hours later, Beaufort County Board of Voter Registration and Elections website reported an overwhelming “yes” vote for the district’s $345 million school bond referendum, which has been the focal point of Rodriguez’s administration thus far.

At a Bluffton victory celebration for the referendum, Tom Gardo, a co-founder of the referendum advocacy group Citizens for Better Schools now, said Rodriguez was instrumental in the district’s first referendum success in 11 years.

“He must have appeared before 70 or 80 groups,” Gardo said Tuesday night.

Between August and October, Rodriguez hosted 16 town halls at district schools, some aimed at the referendum and some at community concerns for the district.

“I’m losing my voice because I’ve done more tours than the Rolling Stones,” Rodriguez said at his Sept. 26 Beaufort High stop, where parents expressed concerns over school safety and teacher retention, among other issues.

Rodriguez was selected as the permanent replacement for former superintendent Jeff Moss after a three-hour executive session and a 6-5 board vote in April, choosing him over Virginia administrator Terry Dade.

His contract was approved in late May, and was negotiated by Columbia-based law firm White and Story, who were later contracted by the district to handle four employee grievances filed against board secretary William Smith. The district paid the firm $10,232.85 for Rodriguez’s contract negotiations, spokesman Jim Foster said in October.

In addition to a four-year term and a base annual salary of $210,200, Rodriguez received the following benefits:

  • A $2,000 monthly stipend for temporary housing as his family moves, which can be distributed for up to six months. He is expected to relocate his family within the district by Oct. 31 and keep a residence in the district for the duration of his contract.

  • $800 per day for visits the district prior to the start of his contract on July 1.

  • $1,250 annually for life insurance.

  • Reimbursement for moving expenses.

  • An annuity contribution to the retirement plan of his choice equaling 10 percent of his base salary.

  • A laptop or tablet and a smartphone.

  • 20 days of annual leave per year, with the ability to carry up to 25 unused days into the next school year.

  • Up to five days of time out-of-office for professional development per quarter.

  • The same insurance protection and benefits given to other administrative employees of the district.

Since starting in July, Rodriguez has kept busy: He hired three principals, three district administrators, created a deputy superintendent position that he’s still hiring for and promised an efficiency study to examine the district’s staffing needs.

‘A dramatic difference’

Striebinger, who chaired the ad hoc results committee that put together the evaluation, said that this grading system “got feelings out of the way” compared to “anecdotal” evaluations of former superintendent Moss.

“Past evaluations seemed to be kind of loose and focused on a general idea of how the superintendent did,” Striebinger said.

Moss received a “satisfactory” grade on his final annual evaluation in 2017, which covered a period that included two “inadvertent and unintentional” ethics admissions stemming from allegations of nepotism in the hiring of his wife for a high-paying, district level job and a failed $300 million referendum.

“We didn’t have an evaluation instrument to speak of” for Moss’ 2017 evaluation, Gwozdz said Wednesday. Instead, she said, board members made individual comments on Moss’ performance that were compiled by an attorney for the final result.

The goal for this evaluation, Striebinger said, was to be “a lot more specific than it was in the old days.”

Gwozdz said that the board received a confidential document from Rodriguez outlining what he had accomplished in his first 90 days, and used that to score his performance on each of the five components, which were averaged among board members and weighted to get the composite score.

What’s next

For Rodriguez’s next evaluation, likely to take place in fall 2020 after student achievement results for this school year are released, Striebinger said there will be more metrics, especially related to the state’s school report cards.

“That will be the key thing,” Gwozdz said Wednesday of student achievement in Rodriguez’s next evaluation.

Rodriguez said staffing will be a big focus for him ahead of his next evaluation.

“One of the things we’re working on is organizational structure and the alignment we have,” Rodriguez said Wednesday.

Board member John Dowling said Wednesday that staffing would be his focus for the next evaluation.

“Now that the referendum campaign is done, I’ll be looking at him to turn his focus inward a little,” Dowling said. “To Mink Point, to getting the efficiency study going and getting a deputy superintendent hired.”

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Rachel Jones covers education for the Island Packet and the Beaufort Gazette. She attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and has worked for the Daily Tar Heel and Charlotte Observer. Rachel grew up in Ayden, NC, surrounded by teachers.