Education Funding

Principals’ Bosses Targeted in New Foundation Effort

By Lesli A. Maxwell — February 18, 2014 3 min read
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A new philanthropic initiative will sink $24 million into improving the conditions and skill sets for the bosses of principals in a half-dozen school districts around the country.

The Wallace Foundation earlier this month unveiled plans for its multimillion-dollar effort to make principal supervisors—administrators with titles ranging from instructional superintendent to regional officer—better coaches and evaluators of school leaders. (The Wallace Foundation also supports coverage of educational leadership, arts education, and extended- and expanded-learning time in Education Week.)

Officials at Wallace say supervisors are critical to the overall success of principals and schools, but have been largely neglected in efforts to improve school leadership.

“We think that principals’ supervisors matter a lot, and what we are looking to test in this new initiative is if you have really effective supervisors who have manageable jobs with support from the district, does that lead to more effective principals?” said Jody Spiro, the director of educational leadership for the New York City-based foundation.

The foundation has identified 23 urban districts across the nation of varying sizes that are interested in the effort. Of those, six will be chosen later this year to take part in the new initiative, Ms. Spiro said.

Among the changes that the winning districts must commit to is reducing the load of responsibilities and the number of schools that such supervisors must manage. That means districts will be hiring additional people for those jobs. The average number of schools and principals that those central-office administrators oversee is 24, a number that Ms. Spiro said makes meaningful mentoring and evaluation impossible.

Varied Duties

The picture of who principal-supervisors are and what their jobs entail is a jumbled one, judging from the results of a survey of more than 40 large-city districts done last fall by the Council of the Great City Schools.

They have different titles. Some report directly to superintendents; others to a deputy superintendent. Most, however, are former principals themselves.

“The most common thing that principal-supervisors do across all the systems that were surveyed is to ensure compliance with regulation,” Ms. Spiro said. “That’s opposed to the rich potential of that job to be a coach, a mentor, and a provider of professional development.”

In addition to lowering the number of principals and schools that supervisors must oversee, Ms. Spiro said, the districts selected for the initiative will also:

• Revise the job description of principal-supervisors to reflect that the central responsibility of the position is to support teaching and learning;

• Provide more time and support to supervisors to spend coaching and mentoring principals;

• Identify ways to spot potential principal-supervisors and training to prepare them for the role; and

• Plan a reorganization of their central offices in ways that most effectively support principal-supervisors.

A related Wallace-funded effort will be the development of professional standards for principal-supervisors—similar to those created in the late 1990s for principals by the Interstate School Leaders Licensure Consortium. Those standards were updated in 2008, also with support from the foundation.

Wallace is also heavily invested in a five-year, $75 million venture to strengthen cadres of would-be school leaders in six districts: Charlotte-Mecklenburg, N.C.; Denver; Gwinnett County, Ga; Hillsborough County, Fla.; New York City; and Prince George’s County, Md.

None of those will be selected for the principal-supervisors’ project, though at least one of them, Denver, has already made some of the same changes that the new effort will require, including reducing the number of schools that principal-supervisors were responsible for managing. When that effort began in2010, Denver’s instructional superintendents had roughly 20 schools in their portfolios. Now, the number ranges from seven to nine. The district also reorganized the central office in such a way that key partners across departments are assigned to assist an instructional superintendent and the group of schools that he or she oversees.

A version of this article appeared in the February 19, 2014 edition of Education Week as Principals’ Bosses Are Target of New Funding Initiative

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