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Superintendent Attempts to Set Record Straight During Mostly Positive Evaluation

By Carla O'Day

By Carla O’Day

Traci Davis

An annual evaluation of Washoe County School District Superintendent Traci Davis was conducted Tuesday by the board of trustees, which praised her strengths and addressed areas she could improve.

However, Davis was quick to point out that some things trustees said in the evaluation should be tagged as opinions so they’re not misconstrued as fact, and removed if the statements aren’t true or irrelevant. Surveys were completed anonymously.

Surveys were sent to the seven-member board of trustees, district and school administrators and staff, community partner organizations, parents and representatives of local municipalities. Partner organizations include nonprofits, public agencies and private businesses.

Davis was evaluated on the following: strategic district leadership, instructional leadership, systemic leadership, collaborative leadership, board relationships and personal and professional ethics, and organizational leadership.

Davis’ overall score with trustees was 3.17 out of 4.0, which meant she was “effective.” A score of 3.7 or higher would have given her the “highly effective” rating and 1.8 to 2.79 would have rated her as “minimally effective.”

Davis Speaks Up

Several things in the evaluation that could be mistaken as facts are really opinions or plain incorrect, Davis said. For example, there was concern about several district-level administrators being hired from the Clark County School District, Davis’s previous employer, and comments about how she could do more recruiting.

Davis said she’s gone on many recruiting trips and that all administrators hired go through the same vetting process. Also, she said she has recused herself from the hiring process when she was deputy superintendent if applicants were from Clark County.

Since becoming superintendent more than a year ago, Davis said she hasn’t hired any administrators from Clark County and has followed district guidelines when appointing her cabinet.

She also indicated it’s not a trustees’ job to evaluate principals or get involved with individual parent complaints. There are board policies in place that deal with such matters, Davis said.

Some trustees said Davis wasn’t available as much as they’d like but Davis said she’s contacted trustees about scheduling one-on-one meetings. She went as far as to read an email she sent to trustees earlier this year about meeting to discuss district business.

“When you put out something to build a bridge and it doesn’t come back to you, you’re stuck,” Davis said.

Ryan Gonda

Ryan Gonda

Trustee Ryan Gonda said he was OK with indicating on Davis’ evaluation if something was opinion but wasn’t in favor of removing anything.

“Going back and making changes to what the evaluation says, I’m uncomfortable with that,” Gonda said.

Trustee John Mayer, a former Sparks city councilman, said he’s never liked the public evaluation process.

“The (meeting) tape will go with her to her grave and we need to have a way she can attach her ideas and thoughts to this evaluation,” Mayer said. “What she said should be written up and attached.”

Areas of Strength, Growth

Davis’ highest score was a 3.4 in strategic district leadership. Trustees said Davis has done a good job ensuring initiatives are aligned with Envision 2020, which includes the district reaching a 90 percent graduation rate by 2020 and emphasizing “every child, by name and face, to graduation.” The report said Davis has shifted distraction away from the previous superintendent’s departure and has moved forward.

“I value those who can take a mess that they inherit and work with it,” one board member said. “She’s not getting enough credit for trying to turn the ship around.”

“She never sways from being the voice of students,” another board member stated. “She is totally student centered. She’s driven by the 64,000 students we have here.”

Areas that Davis could improve include board relationships and professional ethics, where trustees rated her an average of 2.9. The report said trustees recognize Davis has multiple responsibilities and they understand she might have to sometimes step out of meetings to take urgent calls, but her frequent use of electronic devices at meetings and during events should be minimized.

“It can be perceived as disrespectful to be on the iPad all the time,” commented one board member.

“I don’t care if she can multitask 25 things at the same time,” another said. “She needs to be present and attentive.”

“She’s on her phone all the time. She’s not fully engaged,” a third board member stated.

John Mayer

John Mayer

Some trustees said during the meeting that electronic device use is part of today’s culture, while others said the devices make people appear disengaged. Mayer described cellular phones as the “new note,” which could potentially open the board to ethics violations if someone suspects board members are texting each other about how they’ll vote.

The Process

A total of 659 surveys were sent and 154, or 23.4 percent, were returned. Public Impact did the survey and results were tabulated by Vangie Russell, a project manager who works in district Chief of Staff David Lasic’s office.

“Community response surveys are typically low, but this was a bit lower than usual,” said district spokeswoman Megan Downs.

For instance, Downs said she sends out weekly superintendent updates and usually gets an 18 to 21 percent response rate. The last evaluation of former superintendent Pedro Martinez had a slightly higher response rate, but Downs said those surveys were only sent to district and school administrators and staff, whereas evaluations for Davis were sent to other entities and the community.

Several types of questions on the survey were asked: Open-ended, which allowed responders to provide additional commentary about their answers; structured questions, which (for example) asked for three areas for which Davis was doing well and three ways she could improve; and multiple choice questions, which asked whether they strongly agreed, agreed, neither agreed or disagreed, disagreed, or strongly disagreed.

Davis’ employment agreement requires an annual evaluation be done. Her base salary is currently $249,900.

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