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Hernando School Board opts for second districtwide evaluation of superintendent

By Megan Reeves
Employees across the Hernando School District will be asked to weigh in on how superintendent Lori Romano does her job.

BROOKSVILLE — The Hernando County School Board on Tuesday unanimously agreed to spend $10,000 for a second districtwide survey to evaluate the performance of superintendent Lori Romano.

Like the first, which went out in May, the survey will be facilitated by University of South Florida professor George MacDonald and will give employees across the district the chance to weigh in on how Romano does her job.

But some things about the survey, set to be completed by next spring, will be different from the last, in which Romano’s overall average rating was 2.86 out of 5, showing shortfalls in communication and labeling her leadership style as "fear-based."

MORE: View results of the first districtwide survey here

MacDonald on Tuesday asked School Board members to share their feedback of the last survey so he can make the new instrument better. Their responses aren’t due to him until later this month, but some voiced their ideas.

Board member Linda Prescott said she would like to see a question added that asks how long the respondent has lived in the district so the board can better analyze results. She also mentioned concerns about the last survey’s use of the words "few," "many" and "some" to quantify how many respondents gave similar feedback to free-response questions and suggested that instead the survey results provide exact percentages of people who share similar thoughts.

"If she could see that 30 or 40 percent of people want her to do something, she can make a plan" to do that, Prescott said.

Board member Gus Guadagnino, who was the only board member to not participate in the last survey, despite voting for it, said he plans to take the upcoming one. On multiple occasions in recent months, he has expressed his dislike of districtwide surveys, saying only the board should evaluate the superintendent.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Hernando school leaders question value of evaluation of superintendent

He said he agreed to the second survey Tuesday because he was "bending in the wind" and knew he was outnumbered.

"Maybe I can learn something from it," he told the Tampa Bay Times, adding that he would like to see the survey ask more questions that show how closely a respondent works with Romano so the board can analyze how that pairs with their response to certain questions.

Board Chairwoman Beth Narverud said she hopes the survey will ask respondents if they have children enrolled in the district.

"It would be a secondary perspective from one person," she said. "We may be able to see differences in how they respond to things and how those who just go to work and go home respond."

Narverud suggested that when the survey is emailed to employees that there be a job description for the superintendent included "so people know what the job actually is rather than what they think it should be."

More than 940 employees submitted the anonymous, voluntary survey last time around. Board member Mark Johnson said he expects that number to grow this time because employees who participated last time will know that their answers are secure.

Romano added that more than 500 employees — such as custodians and other support staff — who did not have district-issued email addresses when the last survey was sent out now do.

The name of the survey will also change, from Superintendent’s 360 Degree Feedback Survey to Superintendent’s Performance Survey, at the request of MacDonald, who said the new name would be more reflective of the instrument.

Romano, whose contract runs through June 2020, recently underwent another evaluation, the annual review of her performance by School Board members. The forms completed by board members last month were released to the Times last week after the district declined the newspaper’s prior request for them.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Hernando school district releases evaluation documents on Superintendent Lori Romano

Answers were mixed, showing both criticism and compliments for the superintendent. Romano’s highest marks came from Guadagnino, who gave her straight 3’s, the highest score on the evaluation form. Johnson did not fill out a numerical evaluation form, but wrote a six-page letter that called Romano "effective to highly effective in moving this district forward in difficult financial times."

Board member Susan Duval noted concerns about Romano’s "difficulty maintaining an effective relationship with staff members" and staff turnover. Prescott wrote that the superintendent needs further development "fostering a culture of trust and appreciation to cultivate a shared sense of purpose and collaboration amongst all stakeholders" and called for more timely and quality communication between district departments, schools and parents.

Romano’s lowest scores came from Narverud. Of the nine categories, she marked six as 1’s, the lowest score possible. Problems she noted included: a lack of transparency and communication, trouble getting public records requests filled and untrue statements made to the press by Romano. She also criticized the superintendent for last-minute changes to her cabinet just before the start of school this year and for her challenges of the first districtwide survey of her performance.

Contact Megan Reeves at mreeves@tampabay.com. Follow @mareevs.