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Norwalk Schools Chief Gets Mixed Marks in Eval

NORWALK, Conn. —Superintendent Susan Marks received passing grades in her first evaluation of  job performance as head of Norwalk Public Schools. Marks, whose contract was extended for a year last month, was praised by the Norwalk Board of Education  for her visibility in the schools and community, as well as for her work ethic. The board saw room for improvement, however, in Marks’ handling of the budget and her ability to create more "trusting relationships."

The school board’s annual superintendent evaluation, which was released to the public last week, took place over three closed-door sessions earlier this summer. Broadly worded and with few specific examples, the two-page report assessed Marks based on several standards, which she and the school board discussed in August 2010.

“This document is a true collaboration of all board members,” board Chairman Jack Chiaramonte said in an interview. “It reflects everyone’s view.”

Marks also wrote a response to the report, highlighting specific district accomplishments, which was released with the board’s report.

The board highlighted Marks' emphasis on visibility in schools and outreach in the community, especially to funding sources. “Dr. Marks has been visible in the schools and community through school visits and meeting with many stakeholders, some for the first time." Marks is also praised for forming more than a dozen work groups consisting of staff, parents and community members.

However, the board also wrote that the outreach needs to be broader. In the coming year, it wants Marks “to ensure outreach to and inclusion of a broad range of the community which is reflective of the makeup of Norwalk.”

The evaluation recommends that Marks, who has clashed at times with the teachers’ union, work on building better ties with school staff. The board would like to see Marks “establish more trusting relationships with the staff and community.” The evaluation also states the board would like Marks “to improve communication and collaboration with the board” and improve the substance of board meetings.

The school board is pleased with the district’s continued improvement in student achievement as evidenced by state test scores. To further this goal, it would like to see the district “share best practices among schools” and “create a new administrator evaluation tool.”

The board suggests that Marks improve the budget process, especially that she “clarify and improve the budget process concerning how information is solicited, collected and disseminated.”

Alluding to Marks' “non-recommended” budget to the city, the board wrote that it wanted her to strive to “make one recommended budget.” The board gave Marks credit, though, for seeking the input of school officials in the creation of the budget, finding savings through vendor contracts and looking for efficiency.

To better manage the district, the evaluation recommends a reorganization of central office and an enforced chain of command throughout the district.

In reaction to the board's evaluation, Marks delivered her own response that details the district’s accomplishments over the year, many of which were not included in the board's report. “This reflection shows evidence for each standard and each performance measure,” she wrote.

Academically, Marks states there is increased participation in honors and AP classes. In addition, the state Department of Education recognized Norwalk for its academic strides and use of data teams.  Marks also cited the adoption of a new calendar, the dissemination of a parent and staff survey, and the implementation of the teacher of the year program. She highlighted the acquisition of several grants, including one from Nellie Mae Foundation for $750,000 over three years, as well as funding that allows sophomores and juniors to take the PSAT for free.

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