As another school year starts with a new superintendent at the helm, the Asheville City Board of Education agreed on a new evaluation tool for the district’s latest leader at its Sept. 11 meeting.
The metric, drafted by Superintendent Maggie Fehrman, will focus on her progress in three categories: strategic plan development; strategic facilities planning; and leader accountability, transparency, governance and policy.
“I really like it,” said board member Amy Ray at a work session Sept. 5. “I think you did a great job of synthesizing and distilling the values that we identified for you as core to your work when we hired you. I feel like this does a good job of that, and I think it’s a great tool to begin with.”
Fehrman, ACS’ sixth superintendent since 2013, said she drew inspiration from the state’s suggested evaluation tool for superintendents but wanted to customize it to ACS’ specific needs.
The board set as a priority a districtwide, five-year strategic plan when Fehrman joined the district July 17.
Fehrman included ensuring “rigorous and comprehensive stakeholder input” and including students, parents, community members and partners in assessing district strengths and weaknesses to help shape a strategic plan.
Board Chair George Sieburg said full community engagement is the most vital piece of both developing a strategic plan and evaluating the superintendent.
“When we talk about evaluating the superintendent, I would love to be able to hear from community parents, teachers, educators and students on their evaluation of the superintendent to inform my evaluation,” he said Sept. 5.
Fehrman said she could conduct a community survey to provide the board with community opinions on whether, for example, she was successfully creating an environment of trust and mutual respect, which is one of her stated goals.
While the board passed the tool as drafted by Fehrman, board member Rebecca Strimer said at the Sept. 11 meeting the board will consider possible amendments and a timeline for its use in future public meetings.
At the Sept. 5 work session, the board discussed providing feedback for Fehrman using the evaluation tool at its January retreat, when the board could also discuss a formal timeline for future assessments.
During public comment, frequent school board critic Pastor Ronald Gates got shut down before the end of his allocated three minutes by Sieburg as Gates read out explicit sexual passages from a book he claims is available in school libraries.
Gates, who regularly appears at meetings of both ACS and Buncombe County Schools, as well as an occasional Buncombe County Board of Commissioners meeting, typically reads explicit passages and describes graphic images that he says are inappropriate for young readers.
Near the end of his three-minute descriptions at the Sept. 11 meeting, Sieburg attempted to interrupt Gates several times. Gates did not stop speaking until he was approached by Asheville Police Department officers stationed in the room.
“But I [have] freedom of speech, brother. I [have] my first liberty, don’t I? You’re still taking my minutes. There is my liberty, my First Amendment,” Gates said loudly.
“Reverend Gates, your time is up,” Sieburg repeated several times until he walked away from the podium.
In an uncharacteristic move, Sieburg and Ray both responded to public commenters at the close of the public comment session.
“Given the public comments we’ve had recently, there is a difference between reading something in a public forum at a public microphone, compared to a child finding a trained educator to find the book that is right for them. And so, for future public comment, and it shouldn’t be happening anyway, if someone is reading something publicly, I do have the right to gavel them to ask them to stop reading,” Sieburg said.
Ray added a thank-you to staff that seemed to be a direct reference to Gates’ comments.
“I want to appreciate every single one of our educators and all that you do in the face of sometimes belligerent ignorance,” Ray said to crowd applause, with added emphasis on her final two words.
Another frequent public commenter, Pepi Acebo, asked the board to be careful in making a deal with Buncombe County on the use of the former Asheville Primary School campus on Haywood Road, which is owned by ACS.
At its Sept. 5 work session, the board informally endorsed a county-funded study evaluating how the campus could be used.
Among considered uses, ACS board members have said they prefer turning the campus into a pre-K facility or an education and career academy. It now serves as headquarters for ACS’ maintenance team.
Other potential uses discussed by the county include a transportation hub, food services facility for ACS, branch library or Emergency Medical Services base.
“Just keep that in mind that you want to keep all of the property that you’ve got because Asheville is not making new property,” Acebo warned.