Over at Linked-In I came across a discussion about giving bonuses to Headmasters. A board member had mentioned the perfectly sensible idea of tying bonuses to standardized test performance. What follows is my reply. I am experimenting with the new blog, so please forgive me if it doesn't look good. I'll try to fix it as I am able.
I have to echo these concerns about standardized tests. Whoever assesses you is your boss, whether you like it or not. Most classical schools, especially Christian classical schools, were started to escape the domain of the failing schools around us. Then why let their standards determine your behavior? You can't transform a culture by conforming to it.
I see the HM position as a stewardship. The Bible teaches us that the measure of a steward is his faithfulness. While I understand that this creates dilemmas for us when we think about pay structures and rewards, I would encourage you to see it as an opportunity for rethinking the way we manage our institutions rather than simply turning to the practices of a culture we are trying to escape.
The ISM stability markers have long struck me as excellent, though there may be too many of them for your immediate purposes. I would suggest identifying three standards, engaging them with humility, and figuring out how to note growth in each one.
To illustrate: At CiRCE we look at everything through four perspectives:
Goodwill (gaining favor with God and man - This enables us to be Call-Driven rather than market driven, death to a school)
Financials (a lagging indicator)
Operations (where most of ISM's markers apply)
Learning and Growth (a leading indicator if we are wise)
Each of these perspectives gives us an objective or two for the year. For example
Under Goodwill, we seek to clarify God's call to us and then ask, "what does that mean we should do this year?" Such an objective might include, "increase the enrollment of the children of widows in our community".
For each objective, we identify a standard (often these are measurable, though always dependent on circumstances). For example, our standard for educating widows' children might be "number enrolled" or "percent."
For each standard we then identify a target. This could be "3" (for the number enrolled) or "10" (for the percent).
For each complete objective, such as "3 more children of widows enrolled" or "10% more children of widows enrolled" we then determine the necessary initiatives. This involves thought and discussion, of course, but off the top of my head I would use these as examples:
ensure funds are available to enroll the children of widows
figure out how to tactfully reach out to them
prepare teachers for the inherent challenges (NB, I believe that no decision is made until the affected parties are fully informed of their part in it and have had the appropriate input. If your hand doesn't know what your head has decided to do, no decision was really made).
Now we have something that could honestly be assessed and for which the HM could be honored in a meaningful way. I don't believe standardized test scores allow for that. I especially don't believe that standardized test scores assess what you care most about.
I hope this isn't an exercise in confusion. I honestly hope to provide practical, actionable ideas that will enable you to grow as a school and maintain your integrity in a brutally difficult age for the Christian school.
So let me simplify to a glib point that I hope provokes actionable thought rather than laughter: Basically, a HM makes and implements decisions.
Then what you need in a head is practical wisdom oriented toward Godliness. That is what you should look for and honor in your HM.
Does he collect needed information and process it through your guiding principles to make sound decisions?
Does he direct the energy and resources of your school toward the actions needed to effect those decisions?
If he does, cherish him. If not, give him all the training he needs to do so. His preparation may be your most important job as a board. A board is measured by a HM's decision-making effectiveness and his ability to enact made decisions.