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James Feil

TRAVERSE CITY -- Overall, the chief administrator of Traverse City's public schools is an effective leader who is steering the district toward progress, school board members wrote in his annual performance review.

But, they added, Superintendent James Feil should continue to improve communication with employees, parents and the public.

"This board has always felt communication was an important area," board President Fred Tank said. "All throughout the organization, there needs to be a recognition of who we're working for."

Five of the board's seven members approved Feil's written evaluation at a special meeting Thursday. Outgoing members Dave Barr and Suzann Brooke were absent.

Feil attended Thursday's meeting but was not immediately available for comment afterward.

Under Feil, "the district is being well managed and is making good progress toward achieving its stated goals," the review reads. "We are confident that the district has the leadership it needs as it works to survive and thrive in the face of many challenges."

No decision was made on Feil's contract, which expires in June. Board members will decide by March whether to renew it.

Feil earns $159,832 this year after not accepting a salary increase.

The three-page review includes a section for "ongoing accomplishments," which was lifted verbatim from a memo Feil wrote to board members Dec. 10, as well as a section for comments and suggestions.

He was commended for his work to expand all-day, every-day kindergarten to six elementary schools and efforts to advocate for equitable state funding.

But board members believe his weakest areas concern communication, especially "in terms of the administration's ability to hear suggestions and its ability to engender positive attitudes among the various stakeholders," the review states.

"It's been improving slowly, his communication," board member Alice McNally said, citing an updated district Web site and efforts to televise meetings as accomplishments. "Now I feel like people are with you, watching."

The board this year conducted informal quarterly reviews. Feil and board members spent nearly three hours in closed session Monday and roughly 30 minutes Thursday to discuss the review.

Feil this year sent an online survey to 82 people, including teachers, administrators and community members, as an extra component to the evaluation.

He described the questionnaire as a self-evaluation to see how people he works for and with viewed his performance.

Board members received copies of the results, which Feil said would be aggregated and anonymous.

Incoming board members Julie Puckett and Kelly Hall will be included in Feil's contract negotiations, a process current board members said was delayed so as not to be rushed.

The board will begin to discuss budget cuts for 2010-11 early next year.

"We are going to have to put things that can wait aside and get down to the nitty-gritty," McNally said.

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