Superintendent of schools receives positive evaluation

School Board president wants to raise expectations

Posted: Friday, January 16, 2009

Controversy over the new high school, high dropout rates and several schools' failure to meet key standardized testing benchmarks didn't keep the Juneau School Board from giving Superintendent Peggy Cowan a positive job evaluation.

The School Board recently announced a summary of its evaluation and cited rising graduation rates, oversight of Thunder Mountain High School's opening, new curriculums organized around small learning academies and the creation of a team focusing on closing the Native student achievement gap among Cowan's accomplishments.

School Board President Mark Choate addressed the apparent disparity.

"There's no question - as a board, we've been wrestling with a number of issues that address (student) performance," Choate said before ticking off statistics highlighting some of the district's shortcomings. "Schools aren't going to solve all the problems we have. ... Those are huge issues, but those aren't things you fix by hiring a new person or spending more money."

Choate said Cowan fulfilled the job's requirements and met goals the board set in her last formal evaluation in May. The summary statement for that evaluation noted a need to improve long-term planning and accountability, delegation of responsibilities and responsiveness to board decisions.

The board's evaluation process is held in closed session and the full evaluations are confidential, though Choate did say the School Board and district are due to set higher expectations.

"I think overall, the district, we can use stronger goals, higher goals than we set for ourselves in the past," Choate said. "The board, with Peggy, have worked on ... really trying to compare ourselves to the best districts in the country. ... We've got a pretty dedicated group working hard to see that we don't just maintain the status quo."

Choate said those expectations shouldn't stop with the district. He said he wants to weave the importance of education into Juneau's "cultural matrix" so that anywhere kids go in the community, that message is reinforced. For example, Choate said he'd like to see the community foster more pride in the class of 2009 and local businesses offer scholarships and part-time jobs with perks attached to good grades.

"We're having a very difficult time communicating that value to our kids," Choate said.

Cowan also acknowledged the district's challenges but downplayed her latest evaluation because it covered an awkward and unusually short period of time. The School Board completed its previous evaluation almost six months late, leaving only six months for its "annual" evaluation this time around that included the summer break and only a partial semester.

Cowan has been superintendent since 2003 and earns a salary of $132,500. Her contract runs through June and is up for renewal by the board this month.

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