Effective Districts Focus on District-Wide Goals.

Aligning District Goals and Superintendent Evaluation.

As a new superintendent in Seattle Public Schools, I found that we had superintendent goals, board goals, strategic plan goals, equity goals, and many more in addition to our school improvement plans.  Over time we narrowed those to ONE set of goals.


The research on effective districts (Waters and Marzano) says effective districts have:

  1. Collaborative goal setting
  2. Non Negotiable goals for achievement and instruction
  3. Board alignment and support of district goals
  4. Monitor achievement and instruction goals
  5. Allocate resources to support the goals for achievement and instruction

Three of us, Kent Superintendent Israel Vela, Sumner-Bonney Lake Superintendent Laurie Dent, and I, had the opportunity to present on this topic at the Washington School Directors Conference.  We reported on two years of work to align district goals with superintendent evaluation.

School Boards

The big idea is that School Boards drive student learning in four ways:

  • Superintendent continuity
  • Focus, district-wide, on 3-5 priority goals
  • Collaborative reviews at least quarterly
  • Five years of continuous improvement toward those goals

Lessons Learned

Here is what we have been learning about district goals and superintendent evaluation:

1. Set 3-5 “DISTRICT-WIDE” Goals That Matter:

Aim for one set of “District” goals. Include “leading indicators” for student success. Then, all district work should be aligned around those pre-eminent goals.

2. Use Research-Based Superintendent Evaluation Rubric:

Choose a research-based superintendent evaluation tool. The superintendent’s number one goal is to align the system around district goals. Collect evidence on implementation, ownership, and impact on learning.

3. Align District Strategies and Outcomes:

Tightly align strategies, progress measures, and outcomes.  Start with outcomes and plan backward. To improve 3rd-grade reading scores, for example, third-grade teacher teams meet regularly to plan lessons together, use iReady scores three times per year, and reteach as needed to hit end-of-year outcomes.

4. Board Support for Each Goal:

Shifting a school/district culture takes years. Communicate regularly on goal importance and progress. Look for evidence of progress and share that excitement. Show board members what progress looks like so they can be advocates.

5. Monitor Progress Regularly:

Ideally, 50% of board meetings, retreats, and work sessions should focus on implementation, review, and adjustments based on goal progress data.  Be intentional about your monthly calendar.  Show evidence of time spent on the most essential work of the district.

6. Evaluate District-Wide Implementation:

Collaborating District-Wide is essential. Superintendents work through district leaders, principals, teachers, and more to impact student learning. Include stakeholders, including students, in your reviews of district goal progress.

7. Five-Year Focus for Continuous Improvement:

It takes five years of continuous improvement to impact student learning. Each cycle helps improve goal clarity, best practices, and eventual outcomes.

8. Use Data and Budget to Improve Systems and Success.

Put your data and your money where your goals are. Nothing will signal more clearly that you are serious about improving student learning.


The journey towards educational excellence begins with a clear roadmap and unwavering commitment to collective success. By aligning district goals with superintendent evaluation, districts can chart a course toward meaningful impact, one goal at a time.

For more information, see:


Larry Nyland speaking

Larry Nyland – Leadership Coach and Consultant.
Seattle Schools superintendent 2014-2018

To talk about growing extraordinary "high capacity" leadership for your team …
Contact: Larry@Larrynyland.com | 425-418-4398 | LarryNyland.com