SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

November 29, 2013

School head passes first test

By Alan Burke
Staff Writer

---- — PEABODY — He’s good. And he could get better.

That was the judgment of the Peabody School Committee in their evaluation of school Superintendent Joe Mastrocola. In his first year on the job he was rated on average as “proficient,” with only “exemplary” a higher rating. For that matter, the superintendent was faulted mainly in one area — for not communicating better with the board, but he was faulted for this repeatedly. Yet some held that shortcoming is merely a problem of adjusting to what members want.

At last Tuesday’s meeting, Mayor Ted Bettencourt, also the School Committee chairman, offered a summary of the evaluations he and his six colleagues submitted. “On balance,” he said, “Mr. Mastrocola has earned proficient or near proficient ratings in each of the four standards used as criteria. .... Although Committee members highlight strengths and weaknesses in their individual performance evaluations, most agree that progress is being made and improvement efforts are ongoing.”

The “four standards” include instructional leadership, management and operation, family and community engagement and professional culture. Possible ratings include “unsatisfactory,” “needs improvement,” “proficient” and “exemplary.” It was in the category of professional culture that Mastrocola’s mark dropped from proficient to near proficient with communication seen as lacking. “One member did note improvement in Mr. Mastrocola’s communication of ideas,” said Bettencourt. “That member hopes to see continued improvement in Mr. Mastrocola’s communication.”

In fact, complaints about communications cropped up with each category. Under professional culture, a member also questioned his conflict management.

On the other hand, as to family and community engagement, the mayor said, “One member noted the many community-based engagements held by the Superintendent as well as his attendance at many non-school events to support the schools.” In terms of instructional leadership, one member tagged that as Mastrocola’s greatest strength.

“Most agree that progress is being made and improvement efforts are ongoing,” according to the mayor’s summary.

The summary is offered in lieu of releasing the individual judgments of the members, although several did discuss Mastrocola following the meeting. The mayor released a statement that praised the evaluation process and added, “There is much more work to be done and I believe we have a good team in place to help get us where we want to be.”

“I’m pleased with his progress,” said board member Beverley Griffin Dunne. The communications difficulties could happen with any new person at the helm, she added, and might stem from habits developed during Mastrocola’s previous tenure as superintendent at Groton-Dunstable, a small system, with perhaps less need for constant communication with the school committee.

In a year, she said, there is a process of adjustment. “Each superintendent has a different style. They all have different strengths and weaknesses. ... It does take a little while for people to get to know each other.” She noted that Mastrocola has done especially well instituting an unusual number of new school “initiatives,” from new textbooks to new state tests.

“I’m happy with proficient,” said committee colleague Jarrod Hochman. He also downplayed the complaint about the lack of communication. There will always be “growing pains” in such a relationship. “And maybe a little bit of a learning curve.”

“He’s done a very good job managing the budget,” said member Dave McGeney. “And I’m very pleased with communications.” He also suggested this was a matter of adjusting to the needs of this particular board. “This committee is very hands-on. We like to be bombarded with information.”

Asked if “proficient” — given that the choices were “unsatisfactory,” “needs improvement,” “proficient” and “exemplary” — might constitute a grade of B, Dunne countered, “No. I think he gets an A. Exemplary would be an A plus.”