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School Board renews Rendell’s contract despite poor reviews

Photo: Superintendent Mark Rendell.

The School Board has extended Superintendent Mark Rendell’s contract through 2020, with almost no public discussion and without letting the public see individual board members’ evaluations of the man in charge of a nearly $300 million annual budget, not to mention the education of 17,800 students.

Vero Beach 32963 had to file public document requests to find out what board members think of Rendell, whose performance measures are the same as the district’s five-year-strategic-plan measures and thus also reveal what board members think about the county schools’ performance.

Board member’s evaluations of Rendell ranged from 2.25 to 4.5 on a scale where 5 is perfect, and averaged 3.44, which is equivalent to scoring 69 on a math, science or English test in one of the county’s 26 schools – hardly a stellar grade.

Laura Zorc, who gave Rendell his lowest score of 2.25, was critical both of the level of educational achievement and of the “culture and climate” in the schools.

English Language Arts scores on the Florida Standard Assessment for third through eighth grade are stagnating or declining, Zorc said. “When I look at these numbers for the 2017-2018 school year, I see 4,504 students who are struggling to read and write.”

Zorc’s concerns belie Rendell’s claim in his self-evaluation claim that “we have improved student performance in every tested subject area except 7th grade Civics.” Rendell awarded himself a 4.25 for his overall performance.

Zorc and board member Charles Searcy both were critical of the “culture and climate” in the schools.  Rendell had claimed that discipline referrals are down 14 percent, indicating an improvement in classroom behavior, but Searcy said teachers have been told not to write discipline referrals.

“Teachers are pleading for support with student discipline,” Zorc said.

Searcy, who gave Rendell an overall grade of 2.6 – an F grade on any test – awarded the superintendent a 2.0 for his handling of personnel issues and failure to attract “a high-quality workforce.”

“Many teachers and CWA (Communications Workers of America) employees do not trust administration and the superintendent. Retribution is an ongoing concern in the district,” Searcy said. “Trust is nearly non-existent.”

School Board Chairman Shawn Frost saw things differently. In his evaluation, he wrote that Rendell has done a fine job “cutting through the noise where possible and correcting misperceptions,” and gave the superintendent a 4.0 as a communicator.  Frost’s overall evaluation of Rendell was a 4.25.

Rendell got his highest mark from Tiffany Justice, who gave him a 4.5. She said that criticism of Rendell is undeserved.

Board member Dale Simchick gave Rendell a 3.6.

The lack of public awareness of the upcoming contract renewal and of board members’ opinions of the superintendent was due to Frost’s efforts. He quashed public knowledge of Rendell’s performance review.

The renewal only appeared on the July 31 agenda, where the decision to extend his contract was made, because Searcy protested its absence and insisted that it be mentioned in the public document. Even then, there was no backup material, such as copies of board member evaluations.

Fellow board members couldn’t see each other’s evaluations and the public had no access, chilling School Board discussion and eliminating the possibility of public comment.

After voicing mild disapproval of Frost’s actions, the School Board went ahead and unanimously voted for Rendell’s contract extension, with no discussion of the contract details.