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."