REED CITY – Tension mounted as Reed City Area Public Schools board of education members went around the table, one-by-one delivering ratings on 23 different criteria related to the high school principal’s job performance this school year in front of 20 district employees and community members.

Typically, the task that seven people tackled on March 19 would be completed by one individual – the superintendent – in a one-on-one meeting. At RCAPS, Steve Westhoff is both the superintendent and the high school principal, so the board stepped in.

Many school staff members have taken on additional responsibilities in recent years as positions are cut so districts can balance their budgets in light of decreased state funding and increasing expenses. Westhoff accepted the position of high school principal this school year in addition to his duties as superintendent in an effort to save the district money by sparing the expense of hiring of a new principal.

The unique evaluation process stemmed from debate on whether Westhoff should continue as high school principal. He took on the role under a one-year contract.

School boards are familiar with the evaluation process; they deliver a group consensus evaluating the superintendent every year. Typically, board members submit written evaluations, the secretary compiles their remarks and then the board reviews the results with the superintendent and develops a consensus statement. It’s typically done in closed session, with the only the parties directly involved present.

The situation facing RCAPS administrators this spring is anything but typical.

This was the first time board president Dan Boyer, who was elected to the RCAPS board in 2009, had completed an evaluation of a high school principal. Looking back, he would have tried to avoid the situation that arose at the March 19 meeting.

“We should have created a consensus statement in our first evaluation,” Boyer said.

During previous closed-session discussions, the board had reviewed the different criteria raised on the high school principal evaluation rubric, which is the same rubric RCAPS uses to evaluate all of its principals. A special meeting was called for March 19 to complete the evaluation and offer the board’s consensus statement. At that time, Westhoff requested the evaluation be completed in open session.

“The process of evaluation is a good one,” Westhoff said, adding that a productive evaluation should have input from both parties and include examples of accomplishments in the position. “If there are identifiable areas of weakness, I think you should be given a plan for improvement and an opportunity to make those improvements.”

Westhoff felt his work as high school principal was not a “known quantity” among the board members. Because they do not work closely with him as high school principal, Westhoff would have preferred his evaluation be based on feedback from the high school staff.

High school staff did submit anonymous reviews of the principal’s job performance this school year. The board took that feedback into account, but they felt it was important to complete an evaluation of their too.

“Having the high school staff evaluate me is good because they know the performance,” Westhoff said. “I sometimes question how much real knowledge (board members) have of the work I do as principal without being involved in every aspect of the building. It’s difficult for them to know for sure.”

Boyer agreed it is difficult for school board members to evaluate a high school principal, and it is difficult for the board to separate their experience with Westhoff the superintendent from their experience with Westhoff the principal.

“We don’t get to see the day-to-day operation of a high school principal,” Boyer said. “We based our evaluation on the observations that we did have. We also based the evaluation on anonymous evaluations from staff. We based the evaluation on informal conversations with staff.”

Boyer thought the board’s evaluation was as accurate as possible given the circumstances. Ultimately, the board did agree with high school staff in rating Westhoff as an “effective” principal.

“It’s not customary to have the subordinate do an evaluation,” Boyer said of the staff’s reviews. “While we thought that input was valuable, we didn’t want to base (the evaluation) solely on that. The board has a different perspective on things than the employee does.”

The board’s ratings ranged in each criteria. For example, in the category rating the principal’s vision for the high school, Westhoff received an “ineffective” rating, two “minimally effective” ratings, two “effective” ratings and two “highly effective” ratings from board members. More consensus came in the category of shared leadership, where board members delivered six “effective” ratings and one “highly effective” rating.

Overall, Westhoff’s performance as high school principal received four “ineffective” ratings, 21 “minimally effective” ratings, 93 “effective” ratings and 38 “highly effective” ratings.

With the high school principal contract set to expire on June 30, the board will vote on whether to renew a contract with Westhoff at a regular meeting at 7 p.m. on April 22 at the Administration Building.