Like many school districts, Long Beach Unified in California has middle schools where students need extra support to master math. As part of a full suite of programs and activities to support those schools, the district has created a position called a “math assistant principal,” which blends the expertise of math coaching with the administrative heft to influence schoolwide changes that may be needed to help students improve their math scores.
Stacey Benuzzi, the district’s math assistant principal, was featured in a recent Education Week article that talks about a variety of efforts underway in Long Beach to make sure that students from all backgrounds are reaching high math standards. In this Q&A, she offers more detail about her role and how she believes it helps schools. This Q&A has been lightly edited for space and clarity.
What is a “math assistant principal,” and how did your background prepare you for this position?
Benuzzi: A mathematics assistant principal is a content-specific administrator that supports and supervises the mathematics departments at multiple schools. The goal is to increase student achievement in mathematics for all learners by enhancing the collective capacity of site administrators and teachers through collaborative structures. This position promotes equity because I am assigned to support and supervise the mathematics departments at our highest needs middle schools.
Prior to becoming the mathematics assistant principal, I was a mathematics coach for four years in our district’s math office. In this position, I designed curriculum; facilitated professional development for teachers and administrators; and provided coaching for teachers. I also taught a mathematics methods course in the multiple subject credential program at California State University, Long Beach for seven semesters. I earned my Ed.D. in educational leadership and, through that program, became interested in administration.
Your job requires you to divide your time among three schools. How were those schools selected, and what does your work look like on a day-to-day basis?
This is my third year as a mathematics assistant principal. For the first two years, I supervised four schools, and this year, I supervise three schools. The goal of my position is to provide additional support for schools with the highest needs. Therefore, the schools were selected based on student achievement in mathematics.
I spend one day per week at each site and also spend one day per week collaborating with the district’s math office. On the days that I am at school sites, I engage in a variety of activities. A typical day includes informally observing teachers and providing feedback; meeting with the administration team to plan an upcoming professional development; planning the next department meeting with the department head; conferencing with a teacher regarding his or her evaluation; walking classrooms with the principal to calibrate feedback; and monitoring data to ensure progress towards our goals.
Your role combines math coaching with the authority that comes from being on a school’s administrative staff. Can you give an example of how you’ve been able to influence a school’s policies or programs to support improved math instruction?
Because I am an administrator, I have the authority and flexibility to implement change. I provide support to the site administrators and teachers. I also evaluate all of the mathematics teachers at my sites. The evaluation process allows me to support teachers one-on-one who are being evaluated and provide them with intentional coaching and feedback to help them develop as a professional educator. I have impacted the schools’ policies and programs by working with the site administration team to develop a professional-development plan for the year and create an equitable master schedule, which intentionally assigns the most experienced teachers to the students who need the most support and builds in purposeful intervention.
Long Beach administrators pointed to your position as part of its larger efforts to support math equity in the district. Why do you believe it’s important, from an equity standpoint, for this role to exist?
A content administrator, such as a mathematics assistant principal, is one way a district can leverage their resources to support schools with the highest needs and promote equity. Long Beach Unified created my position with an equity lens in order to support our lowest-performing schools based on [district testing] data (growth and percent of students’ Met/Exceeded). This position is one way the district is proving intentional support and resources to the schools who need it the most.
If other school districts would want to create a similar role for some of their schools, what elements would need to be in place for it to be successful?
This position is a powerful way to impact student achievement, and I hope other districts consider creating a content administrator. When creating the position, it is critical to hire a person who has a deep understanding of the content, curriculum, and pedagogy. Additionally, the person should have experience in coaching and be interested in administration. To be successful, the content administrator needs to work closely with the site principals, district office personnel, and the curriculum office. Building a structure for regular communication and check-ins supports the content administrator and ensures that there is alignment in the work across the system.
Photo: Stacey Benuzzi, the math assistant principal for Long Beach Unified in California, works through word problems with students during an Algebra 1 class. (Patrick T. Fallon for Education Week)
A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.