Amherst School Superintendent Maria Geryk gets passing grades in annual evaluation, though two dissent

Last modified: Wednesday, July 02, 2014
AMHERST — Amherst School Superintendent Maria Geryk received good marks overall in her annual performance review by the three school committees she serves, with the highest grades in the area of promoting academic growth for all students and the lowest in communication.

Two of the 11 members who reviewed her performance, however, voted against the summary last week prepared by the chairs of the Amherst-Pelham Regional School Committee, the Amherst School Committee and the Pelham School Committee, criticizing the process and saying that the document did not fully reflect their views.

“This is more on the high side of what I feel,” said Trevor Baptiste, a representative from Pelham. He added, however, that his rejection of the summary is not a statement of nonsupport for Geryk. “I publicly want to say that we need improvement but we have a superintendent who can still prove her capability.” He said he would submit his own assessment to the chair of the Regional School Committee.

Amilcar Shabazz, a representative from Amherst who gave Geryk a number of unsatisfactory grades in the areas of community engagement, cultural proficiency, academic support, budget preparation and hiring, was critical of the evaluation process. He said the chairs who wrote the summary had too much influence on the final document and that the procedure became rushed at the end. He also called for the school committees to find a way to work community comment in next year.

Katherine Appy, chairwoman of the Amherst School Committee, defended the review.

“People were very, very thoughtful,” she said. The chairs exerted “an enormous amount of time and effort to make sure we wrote a compilation that very fairly included everyone’s individual evaluation to the extent that we could.”

The summary was prepared by the three chairs, Appy, Lawrence O’Brien of the Amherst-Pelham Regional School Committee, and Darius Modestow of the Pelham School Committee and was based on comments made by members of the committees, including some who no longer serve. Evaluators were given 300 pages of documents to read including Geryk’s self-evaluation, budget information, reports and staff feedback.

Others who supported the final report are Richard Hood and Kathleen Traphagen of Amherst, Dan Robb of Pelham, and Stephen Sullivan of Shutesbury. Sarah Dolven of Leverett and Tara Luce of Pelham abstained as they just recently joined their school committees following town elections.

Geryk, who was named permanently to the job of superintendent in February 2011 after serving as interim for nearly a year, earns $147,000 annually.

In its introduction, the evaluation reports that Geryk received a majority of proficient and exemplary grades from committee members on the four major standards: curriculum, instruction and assessment, management and operations, family and community engagement and promoting growth for all students.

“Many School Committee members believe our district is performing at a high level and that you have been an important factor in that success,” it states.

It also points out that most members believe she either had made “significant progress” toward or had met her goals in the areas of student learning, district improvement and professional learning. Shabazz, however, indicated that he did not think she met any of her goals.

“The committee applauds your ongoing efforts to develop rich curricula in all subject areas that are aligned across and between grade levels as well as with the current Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks,” the review says. It goes on to say, however, that some evaluators believe that she did not focus enough on teaching and learning, that teachers were not given enough time to evaluate assessment data and teachers’ voices were not always considered in pedagogical decisions.

Geryk was praised for preparing a budget that was “thorough, responsible and informative” and putting in place long-range plans. It cited as a “particular strength” her ability to plan for complex systems, create goals and “implement action steps to meet the needs and priorities of our communities.” It specifically cited the integration of arts in the elementary school curriculum, and money to support struggling students. It also reported that for the first time, under her leadership, the School Department has created a multi-year capital plan.

Geryk got good marks for implementing effective safety procedures in the schools.

The evaluation did, however, call for her to improve her communication with the public saying that it was “an especially challenging year around the issue of school climate issues. There was feedback that you could be more communicative, in areas where you are not constrained by legal parameters, and the hope is that you will do this more quickly when incidents occur.”

The School Committee members said they also want to see better communication around new initiatives. It cited her controversial implementation of a nut ban in the schools as an area where she showed “slow and limited communication with stakeholders.”

Referring to the racial strife that plagued the schools this year as “difficulties outside of her control” the majority of evaluators gave her high marks for focusing time, effort and resources on issues of race, class and diversity. One member called the establishment of a Family Center, which focuses particularly on supporting low-income families as “bold and potentially transformative.”

Others, however, said that people of different races, ethnicities and economic classes are not treated equally in the schools and the majority called for improvement.

Geryk thanked the School Committee members for their observations, both positive and negative, and said she had already begun thinking about ways to incorporate them into her work. “This is a wonderful place to work and it is also an extremely challenging place to work,” Geryk said. “We have a lot to do. We have much to celebrate and much that needs to improve.”

Debra Scherban can be reached at dscherban@gazettenet.com.