Principal supervisors targeted in $24M project

Initiative aims to determine how principal supervisors are best empowered

principal-supervisors-wallace-foundationA new $24 million initiative will help school districts better support principal supervisors as they enable school principals to support better teaching and learning.

The five-year project from The Wallace Foundation aims to fund increased training and support for principal supervisors in up to six large, urban districts serving low-income students.

Accompanying the project is a $2.5 million study to determine if, and how, additional support for supervisors creates more effective school leaders.

The big question is: “If principal supervisors in large, complex districts shift from overseeing compliance to sharpening principals’ instructional leadership capabilities, and if they are provided with the right training, support and number of principals to supervise, would this improve the effectiveness of the principals with whom they work?”

(Next page: How supporting supervisors helps districts)

“Strong schools need strong principals, and strong principals need strong support from the people they report to in the districts’ central offices,” said Will Miller, president of Wallace. “Principal supervisors can help principals create high-quality schools by providing them with the individualized support and personal development that makes them more effective leaders. Yet, these supervisors often are unprepared for this work and oversee 24 principals on average, raising questions about whether they have the time to focus on anything other than compliance.”

Consistency is key, as well.

“While district-level principal supervisors could play a big role in improving the principalship,” said Jody Spiro, Wallace’s director of education leadership, “there’s no consistency across districts about these positions. Job titles and definitions vary. Hiring criteria can be vague, and these supervisors rarely have the training to help principals improve instruction. Another problem is that most principal supervisors say their top task is ensuring bureaucratic compliance with district procedures, instead of spending valuable time helping principals lead schools more effectively.”

In order to choose up to six districts, 23 school districts were invited to compete to be chosen. The chosen districts will receive an average of $3 million in grants during the initiative. Those districts will be announced in September.

The funds will go toward helping districts develop and craft job descriptions, hiring criteria, training, and support for supervisors.

Using the grants, districts will be able to hire new supervisors or reassign staff members to reduce the number of principals each supervisor oversees.

Though the grants will help in various ways, districts will be expected to be able to cover the costs once the grants run out, and will contribute at least one-third of the expenses for the project.

Keeping with Wallace’s focus on strengthening school leaders, the foundation is managing a separate $75 million principal pipeline initiative. That initiative is helping six districts produce a contingent of principals who are “instructional leaders,” focused on improving teaching and learning.

In fact, the foundation’s supervisor grant initiative was spurred by the pipeline project, as project leaders worried that supervisors’ lack of support and training could jeopardize principal effectiveness.

A report from The Wallace Foundation and the Council of Great City Schools released last fall emphasized that concern–the report revealed that supervisors juggle a large number of principals and “extensive administrative responsibilities.” The report also found that many principal supervisors don’t have access to “instructionally-focused professional development.”

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Laura Ascione

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