In many large school districts, principal supervisors face sprawling jobs, overseeing an average of two dozen schools and assuming numerous administrative, compliance and operational responsibilities. The result is that they often can’t provide their principals with the type of meaningful support that could boost principal effectiveness, especially in leading schools to higher-quality instruction. In 2014, six large school districts embarked on a four-year, Wallace-funded effort to see if they could change that and refashion the supervisor job so it focuses squarely on principals.
This study of the implementation of the first three years of the Principal Supervisor Initiative suggests the work is possible, concluding that the six districts “demonstrated the feasibility of making substantial changes to the principal supervisor role” across the five areas the effort zeroed in on: redefining the job, reducing the average number of principals supervisors oversee, training supervisors for their responsibilities, developing systems to identify and train aspiring supervisors, and modifying the central office to buttress the new role.
Among other things, the researchers found that the districts succeeded in lowering the average number of principals-per-supervisor to 12 from 17. That combined with the other changes meant that “principals were able to spend more time interacting with supervisors.…[and] they reported developing more productive relationships with their supervisors than in the past,” the report says. By the third year of the effort, supervisors reported spending well over half of their time—63 percent—either in schools or in group meetings with principals.
None of this means the effort unfolded without challenges. For example, supervisors faced tradeoffs between participating in district decisions and directly supporting principals, and districts were continuing to grapple with the redistribution of responsibilities formerly held by the supervisors. Challenges ahead, according to the researchers, include ensuring a broad notion of instructional leadership that includes not only developing high-quality instruction, but also developing a strong school culture and ensuring job-embedded professional development for teachers.
The report is the first of three looking at the effort. The districts are: Broward County, Fla.; Baltimore; Cleveland; Des Moines; Long Beach, Calif; and Minneapolis.