Marion County Board of Education conducts annual school superintendent evaluation

Feb. 13—FAIRMONT — Marion County School Superintendent Donna Heston paces up and down the hallway in the offices of the Marion County Board of Education.

The Board is holding their annual evaluation of her performance, and have dismissed her from the meeting room while they convene to discuss her performance in private. Heston has spent the last hour talking with the Board in Executive Session, and now awaits the final results of her evaluation.

"I'm waiting to see if I get voted off the island," she said, breaking some of her tension with a joke.

After another 20 to 30 minutes has passed, the Board is ready to end its executive session and release its statement on Heston's performance over the past year. Board President Donna Costello speaks on behalf of the Board.

"We have come to, after lengthy discussion with the superintendent and the Board listening to each and every goal, we unanimously have come to the conclusion that the superintendent meets or exceeds all goals," she said.

Judging from the Board's statement, it's safe to say they're happy with the school superintendent's performance. Heston's place on the island is secure.

Since the evaluation deals with matters pertaining to personnel, and Heston is a member of Marion County Schools, the board discusses the matter behind closed doors in Executive Session in order to protect details of Heston's employment. However, Heston was able to provide a rubric from 2021 that gives some idea of what may go on in that closed door discussion.

Goals for the superintendent to work on are established before Sept. 15 each year, and at least one goal must relate to student achievement. Each goal must be established by Sept. 2023 and be classified as ongoing by June 2024. The first goal was to increase the number of students proficient in English Language Arts and Mathematics at each grade level.

The second goal sought to increase collaborations and partnerships with business, industry and higher education institutions to pursue student leadership opportunities, career awareness in technical education, dual credit and connections with the science of learning and outdoor learning.

The board also tasked Heston with increasing positive engagement opportunities with students, families and the community at large. Heston also had to figure out how to decrease the number of personnel in the school system in order to come into line with funding provided by the state and federal government.

The final task dealt with the bond issue. Heston was responsible for helping develop a bond that would further the school system's facilities and place it before voters in this year's election.

Heston said this year's rubric was similar to the one from 2021 and given the board's statement, it's likely she met or exceeded the board's expectations on similar merits.

The current rubric was voted on and accepted by the Board two years ago, which was implemented by the state. Its purpose is to guide the board through personnel season and see ways for the board to help guide academic growth within the schools.

Prior to entering executive session, Board member James Saunders logged his exception to the use of the state developed rubric.

"I'm opposed to the evaluation that we do because I feel it's not fair to the superintendent or to the board," he said.

Saunders doesn't believe the rubric provides a place for evaluating the relationships the superintendent maintains with employees, teachers, the board and other things. The school district had greater latitude over the evaluation process in the past. Under the state's rubric, the superintendent sets their own goals and the board approves them.

Heston responded to the objection.

"I know it's very important to the board that community relations be part of a superintendent's evaluation, so I always set a goal related to that," she said. "I know it's important to the board that the old rubric used to have those things on it, so I always try to solve that by writing a goal to that so you can still rank me on that."

Saunders pointed out his preference for a list of better defined metrics on this topic, rather than a general box that may be overly broad. However, he deferred to Costello, noting that the board voted to approve the state's rubric, overruling his dissenting vote.

Saunders considers it important to continue voicing his objection on this point going into the future.

Finally, no pay raise is coming to Heston's island on account of the evaluation. Heston said she is under contract, therefore the evaluation plays no role in changing the terms of that contract.

The next regular school board meeting is Feb. 19.

Reach Esteban at efernandez@timeswv.com