Simon gets mixed reviews on annual evaluation

Alachua County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Carlee Simon received mixed reviews from School Board of Alachua County (SBAC) members who submitted appraisal forms for her annual evaluation.

The evaluations elicited a wide range of comments and ratings as two board members rated Simon as highly effective, while the other three rated her as developing, needs improvement and unsatisfactory.

The appraisal form addressed 43 personal attributes and activities ranging from integrity to providing for improved employee morale.

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SBAC member Mildred Russell, who joined the board last August, selected “Developing” as her overall evaluation rating of Simon.

“This evaluation was difficult to do because of the lack of clear goals and objectives set by the Board,” Russell commented. “I think an evaluation must be done in that context in order to do a full and appropriate evaluation. Because the Board is not involved in the daily operations of the District, it is not easy to know how the Superintendent interacts with the staff.”

Alachua County School Board member Mildred Russell
Mildred Russell

Russell’s highest mark for Simon was 6 out of 9 on several topics such as “understands the functions and operations of the District.”

Russell expressed concern over Simon’s ability to “work well with individuals and groups,” giving a 4 out of 9.

“The Superintendent works well with the Board at meetings and workshops,” Russell commented. “I understand that she and Dr. Paulson do not have much of a relationship at the moment. That has a negative effect on our work as a team. I believe that that relationship needs to be repaired. In my observation of interaction with members of staff, the Superintendent works well with them.”

Dr. Gunnar Paulson, the longest serving board member, marked a majority of the categories as “Needs Attention” with ratings of 1 and 2. He rated Simon as 4, “Effective,” on several topics such as, “Supports use of meaningful assessments for program improvement.”

Paulson’s overall evaluation was entered as “Unsatisfactory.”

“I debated long and hard on my overall evaluation mark which is Unsatisfactory,” Paulson explained in his comments. “With my serious concerns as to Dr. Simon’s leadership abilities, I do acknowledge that her inexperience could be a major, determining factor in the absence of building positive relationships with stakeholders and lack of fully informing myself as a board member and other stakeholders in the transparency process of decision making.”

Paulson also noted that he had concerns about how quickly Simon was appointed as superintendent.

“Dr. Simon was appointed superintendent on December 4, 2020, four days after Superintendent Karen Clarke’s termination, both motions by a 3-2 vote. At this time, I expressed strong concerns as to no resume, vetting, and no public discussion or input…”

SBAC member Dr. Leanetta McNealy, who chaired the board when those 3-2 decisions took place, rated Simon between 7 and 9, or “Outstanding,” on all topics that she observed.

SBAC Chair Dr. Leanetta McNealy
SBAC Chair Dr. Leanetta McNealy

Her overall evaluation was marked as “Highly Effective” with a suggestion of “Improving relationship as issues arise.”

“The Alachua County School District under the exemplary leadership of Dr. Carlee Escue Simon has soared to great heights,” McNealy wrote in comments at the end of the evaluation. “A full year has passed and it is time for me to give an account of your job performance as it pertains to the responsibilities and duties as Superintendent of Alachua County School Board. It has been a remarkable year, one of joy and as well as stressfulness in different aspects of her responsibilities.

“Dr. Simon has performed all services in a manner consistent with the highest standards of professional conduct and with the responsibilities of her position.”

SBAC Chair Rob Hyatt’s overall evaluation grade was “Needs Improvement.”

Hyatt’s highest scores for Simon was 5 out of 9 in topics such as “Provides information as requested by the Board” and “Provides for the enforcement of School Board policy.”

The lowest scores he gave were several 2s, or “Needs Attention,” on “Maintains high standards of ethics, honesty, and integrity,” and “Demonstrates ability to work well with individuals and groups.”

Hyatt pointed to Simon’s reorganization last summer that met resistance and led to a “no confidence” “no confidence” petition circulating in the community.

“Nine non-renewals in June 2021 cast a chilling effect on the District’s administrators, especially school principals,” Hyatt commented. “A number of those in leadership positions are concerned over possible retribution and just keep their heads down and move on.”

SBAC Vice Chair Tina Certain gave Simon an overall evaluation of “Highly Effective.”

“Composition of the Board changed in November 2020 and again in June 2021,” Certain commented, referencing Diyonne McGraw’s removal over a residency issue. “From the time of Dr. Simon’s appointment, the collective board did not meet to adopt priorities collectively. In August 2021, the Board unanimously voted to start school with mandatory masking. We gave clear direction on the masking issues and pausing Duval and Dr. Simon and Staff carried out both directives efficiently and effectively.”

The lowest rating Certain gave was 6 out of 9 in topics such as “Provides for improved employee morale,” and “Utilizes conflict mediation.”

Tina Certain
Tina Certain

Certain’s highest score for Simon was a 9 for “Maintains a cooperative and professional relationship with the news media.”

Simon submitted a 24-page self-evaluation that included a personal reflection statement. In it she took issue with the way some board members have operated as individuals.

“I am hoping that the executive coach will support the Board and myself with finding a collective direction for the District,” Simon wrote. “Board Policy 0122.1 states ‘Board members as individuals do not separately possess the powers that reside in the Board. Board members shall have authority only when acting as a Board legally in session. The Board shall not be bound in any way by any statement or action on the part of any individual Board member, except when such statement or action is pursuant to specific official instructions of the Board.’”

Simon wrote that the board’s conflicts have affected her ability to do her job.

“There are strong Board members on the Board, unfortunately at this time, there are challenges associated with finding common ground and providing the much needed direction to the Superintendent,” Simon wrote. “I am in need of knowing what the Board’s will is, so I can direct staff to accomplish their goals. An example is this evaluation process. Strategic Priorities were not developed to help guide me and the organization. The only clear direction given was to open schools safely in the pandemic. I believe I did an excellent job following the collective Board’s direction. However, I am in need of more direction for where we go from here. I am requesting that the Board address their Strategic Priorities for the 2022 year. I would like to know how they would like me to demonstrate meeting these priorities as well. I also would like us to develop an evaluation tool that is objective, formative, and supportive of the District’s priorities.”

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