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School Board's Mendoza Evaluation: Staff Deeply Mistrusted Former Superintendent

Gil Mendoza defended his work, saying that the evaluation proceeding had "not been fair." However, school board officials state that the separation was the culmination of years of problems.

Editor's Note: This is the first part of an ongoing look into the mutual separation agreement between former Sumner Superintendent Gil Mendoza and the Sumner School Board. Stick with Patch as more information is released.

When Dr. Gil Mendoza leaned how unhappy the Sumner School Board was with his job performance, he admitted he was surprised.

“Of course it would be surprising, to someone who has never been unsatisfactorily rated at any other point in their professional career,” said Mendoza, who parted ways from the Sumner School District on June 8 after reaching a separation agreement with the school board. His last official day is June 30.

However, according to a 13-page internal evaluation obtained by Patch, the Sumner School Board said Mendoza's separation from the district was a long time coming. In fact, the issue has been discussed in school board executive sessions regularly over the past two years, said Sherm Voiles, the school board's president.

"The major issues with Gil’s time in the district are issues of truthfulness and manipulating information," said Voiles. "There were a number of areas of failed leadership that had risen to the point where he lost the trust and confidence of almost every administrator in the school district, from the principals clear up to the assistant superintendent. Clearly, this was very troubling."

According to the evaluation: 

  • In a survey of 40 district administrators, 60 percent of respondents said they “did not trust Dr. Mendoza.”
  • District administrators received little training or guidance regarding employee evaluations and little useful feedback on their own performance.
  • Mendoza was not a "team player" and did not seem to be part of the team he was supposed to lead. He made on-the-spot decisions without adequate planning and continually changed direction on decisions that were already made. 
  • Mendoza did not provide leadership in the district's education program and he did not show evidence of being an" innovator." His greatest weakness "appears to be that he does not recognize his own weaknesses in the educational arena," the evaluation stated.
  • While Mendoza created "excellent" relationships in the community and with students, there was a clear lack of positive morale with key administrators and principals in the district. He did not have the support of an "overwhelming majority" of top administrators in the Central Office, nor did he have the support of most school principals.
  • During Mendoza's superintendency, the district lost its sense of vision, direction and focus.

The evaluation concluded that, while the district continued to perform well under Mendoza's guidance, it was "the result of actions of the district's top administrators other than the Superintendent, who have been doing great work 'in spite' of Dr. Mendoza's leadership, not 'because' of it."

In Mendoza's written response to the district obtained by Patch, the administrator, who was with the district for four years, stated the greater issue was "the problem of board members placing long-established relationships with existing administrators, and that cronyism, over their duty to honestly communicate and collaborate with the superintendent."

Mendoza defends the job he did in the district, saying the board refused to explain how it came to an unsatisfactory rating. 

“While it was a surprise to see that [evaluation], what was more of a surprise to me was that the board was unwilling to go over the document with me,” said Mendoza. “Once we started, we went over part of it and reached a point in a matter of minutes that they would not go over the document any further.”

The school board evaluation system rates the superintendent on a scale of one to four, with 1 being "unsatisfactory" and 4 being "exceed expectations." The categories rate his performance in various responsibilities, everything from school administration and management to general interest in pupils and employees.

Each board member rated Mendoza on the individual criteria in the nine categories, then the board rated him with a overall vote in each category.

"The consensus score is not an average of previous, individual marks. There may be some areas in the evaluation that one member will rate 'satisfactory' or 'above average,' but there may be one area within that category that is such an overriding concern to the board that that kind of outwights their individual vote," said Voiles.

As a whole, the board found Mendoza's work "unsatisfactory" in five of the nine categories. In three, they determined he "needs improvement." The one category Mendoza was rated "satisfactory" in was school finance.

Mendoza said his requests for clarity on the evaluation “fell on deaf ears.”

Voiles debated the validity of Mendoza's assertion and said the board has used the same evaluation format since Dr. Donald Eismann's 22-year-tenure as district superintendent.

"Maybe we had one discussion about it, but [Mendoza] said he’s made frequent requests to change the form and that just had never happened," said Voiles. "This is typical of the problems Gil had in leadership. Whenever he’s been presented with issues, problems, decisions or whatever it may be, his mode is to do everything he can to turn things around and blame it on other people."

In the letter Mendoza sent to staff on Tuesday, June 7, announcing the mutual separation, he stated that "the School Board and I have reached a point where our views on critical issues in leadership are not aligned."

Voiles said it was not a matter of philosophical disagreement, but the ultimate result of poor leadership.

"In his announcement, [Mendoza] characterized [the split] to be basically a philosophical difference in leadership, but that really has very little or nothing to do with it," said Voiles. "He did not have the trust and confidence of virtually every administrator in our district and we cannot let that slide."

Lauren Padgett (Editor) June 18, 2011 at 12:20 AM
I just wanted to clarify one thing: I asked Sherm Voiles the same question, about how the individual votes within the evaluation are counted against the consensus or 'overall' score Mendoza received. He told me that each board member gets an individual vote, but then, as a group, they make one vote for each category. I realize that should have been clearer in the article, so I've added a quote from Sherm that I hope helps readers understand their rating process. Thanks Nancy!
Nancy M. Dumas June 18, 2011 at 01:54 PM
I have had the opportunity to speak with 4/5 School Board Director's (Greg Hanon didn't return my call) and one recently in great detail; certainly time I truly appreciated being given. However, I have also had the chance to review Dr Mendoza's Mid-Year Eval and Rebuttal. The numbers do not add up to an overall Unsatisfactory rating. Dr Mendoza received a cumulative 70 Unsatisfactory, 51 Needs Improvement and 106 Satisfactory Votes. How does that equal to an overall score of Unsatisfactory? Item 7. Leadership: Effective Leadership is in question, correct? 8 Unsatisfactory, 7 Needs Improvement, 15 Satisfactory. Yet he got an overall Unsatisfactory here too. He received 3 Unsat's, 1 NI and 1 Sat for : Promotes and maintains a culture of high expectations for self, student and staff performances. In my book, he's a 4: Exceeds Expectation and if our Board (minus Rick) entered into our schools and watched him engage our kids, pump them up so they feel proud, they could be more objective. Item 8:Personnel Eval's: 7 Unsat, 1 NI, 2 Sat's. Why is he to eval each staff member? That's HR's or dept heads area. Item 9: Board/Super Relations: 6 Unsat's, 11 NI, 33 Sat's. A "Needs Improvement"? Really? In my opinion, this is simply smoke and mirrors of a much deeper issue. This is the tool the School Board is using to manipulate the situation because Dr Mendoza won't give in to the old "Donald way" and has higher expectations for our district and staff.
Rebecca Giles June 18, 2011 at 03:40 PM
Oh boy!
Kelda Miller June 18, 2011 at 03:45 PM
Hmmm. If Voiles is going to say to the press that this is about 'Truthfulness and manipulating information" it would be easier for the reader to empathize if there were specific examples. The evaluation, though it also has all the holes that Nancy just pointed out, doesn't point to a Mendoza lying or manipulating information. As far as a leader who doesn't at times work well with his team, I think every leader tries to figure out the balance between intuitive fast action and deliberated group action. Knowing what the specific examples are would help the public get a sense if Mendoza acted incorrectly or not. Maybe those topics can be broached in the next articles in this series. ;)
Nancy M. Dumas June 18, 2011 at 05:26 PM
Please don't let adult disagreements in leadership style overshadow the needs of our 8,100+ students and parents. If you worked for a company and had the same boss for 20 years, you establish a certain working relationship and also a friendship. If you didn't have that established and deep rooted relationship, you probably would have left long ago and moved on so you could continue your own professional growth through contribution. When your boss decides to retire and "the new guy" comes in, it is your professional responsibility to do your best under the new leadership. If you are unhappy, it is your responsibility to leave; not try to undermine and take him down so "you win". In this case, that is self-serving and disrespectful to our students, parents and 1000-ish staffers. Dr Mendoza was hired above other candidates 4 years ago to lead and direct our district. Sometimes that means change which people are adverse to. Those in Leadership positions should not need to be micro-managed; collaborative yes. Micro-managed, no. They were hired, as well, to Lead with their cumulative knowledge. We all have areas we can improve upon, the Board and Dr Mendoza as well. However, their choice to not give parents a voice and make a decision that, in my opinion, is not in the best interest of our kids, sticks with me.
Nestor Fernandez June 18, 2011 at 05:39 PM
This is shameful! I agree with what Nancy says. The numbers don't add up. The board is using smoke and mirrors to come to their conclusion. "Team Player" = "Good Old Boy" network. I suggest that if Dr. Mendoza did not have the support of the majority of school administrators as claimed, parents should ask their kids principal if they feel the same way. Then we can see who truly has character issues. In my opinion I suspect this is being released because of all the negative public opinion the school board has been receiving. Nothing more that a "CYA" statement. Perhaps this coming election we can give the school board members an UNSAT and send them home with a note pinned to their Oxford shirts!
Greg Gustafson June 18, 2011 at 07:45 PM
Sounds like all parties involved bear some responsibility for this train wreck.
Donald C Weber MD June 18, 2011 at 08:30 PM
After serving as president for 2 years of a 4 year term in the tumultous early 70s, I can appreciate the fact that a superintendent is ideally 100% perfect in multiple different areas of school administration, all the while having to submit to the whims and prejudices of a a board of elected officials. Unfortunately, in the current scenario, they are dealing with the most popular and visably competant PR school representative since the position grew from a glorified principal to the current requirement of one holding a Doctorate degree in school administration. Accusations of dishonesty and misrepresentation seem not only inappropriate, but downright inflammatory. In addition, they may have long term untoward consequences to the future pursuits of Dr Mendosa. Furthermore, the dollar cost to the district directly due to this action will be an unwanted expense footed by all of us voting taxpayers. With the meager justification for this extreme action as reported above, it confirms my personal belief that single term limits need be placed on School Board Members.
David Coutts June 19, 2011 at 03:27 AM
This district has lost many "outstanding" employees because of the aforementioned "cronyism" and the good-ol'-boy network; the good-ol'-board currently in place just passed the lemon that disrupted their network. With good, new leadership comes a rocking of the boat and the underperforming school board chose to remove the one person that could expose their lack of providing a quality product. This board was truly out-classed and over their heads when dealing with the leader that they all just turned on. Ditto on the single-term limits as well.
Kristin June 19, 2011 at 05:18 AM
Dr Mendoza and Ken Turcotte are two educators that I had complete trust in, and now they are both leaving over disputes with the school board? When you have 2 high-caliber educators like these men leave at the same time, it screams to me that we've got to pay better attention to the school board...it can't be coincidental. I am very disappointed.
Nancy M. Dumas June 19, 2011 at 09:21 PM
For all of you who have read and not posted or read and did post, please mark your calendars for this Wednesday night, June 22nd from 7-8pm at Rainier View Park here in Sumner. I have arranged for a Public Forum, Town Hall Style and have invited our current School Board Officials to attend the Q&A. We need you to attend and ask your questions. You deserve to be heard. While respect for all of us was not given at the time the decision was made or to use us as parents who are embedded in the schools as volunteers to weigh in as another barometer, I feel that it is too important of an issue to turn my head. 8100 kids need him on their side. I, we, may not be able to affect change and a reversal of a decision, but we can at least put a spotlight on it and rally for Dr Mendoza. November is coming and Casey and Paul need to un-seat Hanon and DeMarre respectively. Rick Hendricks was the only one willing to stand up, cast the one decending vote and act upon results not coersion. If they've been on the school board for 4-5 terms (16-20 YEARS!) +/- and don't have kids attending our district or they've pull them out of district to attend a specialty school in Tacoma, where is their vested interest in our children? Please let everyone you know about Wednesday night. I can't do this alone but we can do it together. Pass it on :)
Nestor Fernandez June 19, 2011 at 11:03 PM
Thanks Nancy for all your leg work! I will spread the word. I too find it disheartening that some board members opted to choice out of our district or enroll their own kids in private schools. I'm not the only parent that can not afford to send my children to private school. Well all need strong advocates for our students and school district. I believe the actions of the school board have finally awaken the sleeping giant. Regular working folks who want the best for their kids and communities. For too long voters have had a certain apathy about public officials. Not any more!
Concerned Mom June 20, 2011 at 05:30 PM
Kristin, I personally talked to Ken Turcotte today and he is NOT leaving due to the school board at all. He likes the school board. I was surprised and so was he at your comment. Ken does NOT have a dispute with the school board at all and they have nothing to do with his leaving. As far as Dr. Mendoza, that is another matter. I will say that I walked into two of the schools the morning after the announcement and I saw more staff smiling and happy than I have seen in a very long time. My older children also commented that a few comments were made to staff at their schools and that the staff seemed extremely happy. It is one thing to know a person through their job, it can be a completely different experience having to WORK with that person. I can say that from personal experience. As a parent I have absolutely no problem with the school board's decision, and I know others that feel the same way. Some of us obviously have had a different experience than you have had.
Donald C Weber MD June 20, 2011 at 05:37 PM
Having been a Rotarian for about 40 some years, and throughout the duration of Dr Mendoza's membership, I have never noted any negatives about his comments or behavior! He always contributes positive input re the school district and especially the kids and their accomplishments. Personally I am astonished to hear that anyone in the club would indicate they were "outragged at some of his comments and behavior". If someone has actually made such comments, they should be accompanied by the specific instances with full explanagtion and signed by the author. Heresay and 2nd party interpretations have NO place in a public arena.
Kathleen June 20, 2011 at 05:51 PM
While I knew the previous Superintendant, Don Eismann from the ime he first came to Sumner from Bellevue, I do not know Dr. Mendoza. What I do know is that the high school pool is struggling to stay open with a need for $150,000 to maintain the pool. They tell me the District is having budget funding problems. Yet, without any egregious action on Dr. Menzona's part, they let him go and yet PAY HIM his final third year as part of his contract...to a tune of $178,000, for no work whatsoever! For wasting $178,000 in taxpayer funds the Board should only part ways if the Superintendant was guilty of some criminal action, or something of a high nature...Not "playing well with current staffers" means that they should have at least kept him the third year and tried to work it out.
DAP Norris June 20, 2011 at 07:57 PM
Nancy, Would you mind sharing with us how you went about getting the Mid-Year Evaluation and the Rebuttal? I thought there might be a protocol or "due process" procedure, but just wasn't quite sure. Thank you!
Rebecca Giles June 20, 2011 at 08:34 PM
Totally loving this 3 ring circus of people speculating what they may or may not know! Great entertainment. Thank you Lauren Padgett for your original article and subsequent ones!
Karen Trujillo Crueger June 21, 2011 at 12:28 AM
Well said David. So, when do we get to replace the current board members is my question now!
Nancy M. Dumas June 22, 2011 at 05:55 PM
Deb, I don't mind sharing at all. It's a public document. Newspapers have it along with private entities. ~ Nancy
Nancy M. Dumas June 23, 2011 at 04:17 PM
It looked like it could have rained all day until we got to the park and the sun came out. Metaphoric. Good job shining your light on such an important situation. Thank you all ~ all 62 of you who stood at the park and for those that could not be there but got an email or letter to me to read on your behalf. Also to Sherm and Greg for showing up and staying long after 8 pm, even after 9 pm. What resulted from last night was a call for an emergency School Board meeting early this coming week (Mon or Tues), posted on the Sumner school website and another e-mail campaign to get the word out. (ndumas16@gmail.com if you want to be included). I just spoke with Greg and while I can not confirm a date just yet, I should know later today which day it will be. Keep in mind that the only way we can affect change is to show up. The School Board is the only one that can reverse their decision but it can happen. It can't happen if you stay home. It makes me sad for the teachers and internal staff that wanted to be there and show support for the inspiration Dr Mendoza has been to them but have expressed their concern for retaliation and the need to keep their job. I say, check with your union because there should be a layer of protection there. But you also have an amendment that protects your right to free speech. You should be given immunity to speak and we will back you up. Keep checking back for the School Board date. I will post here first.
Lauren Padgett (Editor) June 23, 2011 at 04:26 PM
Thanks for all your hard work Nancy!

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