The principal supervisor job has traditionally revolved around administration, operations and compliance, but as principals have increasingly been called on in recent years to concentrate on supporting high-quality teaching, the idea of a complementary makeover of the supervisor job has gained attention. In 2014, with funding from The Wallace Foundation, six large school districts around the country embarked on a four-year, $24-million initiative to redesign the supervisor position so it focused primarily on supporting principals in their role as instructional leaders.
This report, which looks at the final year and the effects of the Principal Supervisor Initiative, concludes that the effort succeeded in changing the job so that it centered on developing and evaluating principals to help them promote effective teaching and learning in their schools. Over the course of the initiative, principals’ ratings of their supervisors’ effectiveness rose from 3.88 to 4.10 on a scale of 1-to-5, a statistically significant increase. Principals reported greater frequency of supervisor practices to develop school leadership—such as helping principals with data analysis, providing them with useful feedback and working with them to assess teacher effectiveness. “It’s a tremendous change,” one principal said.
The districts took a number of steps to alter the job, including:
- Reducing the number of principals their supervisors oversaw, from an average of 17 principals before the initiative began to an average of 13;
- Developing a common understanding of high-quality instruction and training supervisors in recognizing it; and
- Changing aspects of their central offices to better support supervisors.
On that last point, over the course of the effort both supervisors and principals gave statistically significant higher ratings to the quality of support they received from district headquarters. By the end of the initiative, for example, the percentage of principals agreeing that their central office was organized to support them had jumped 16 points to 57 percent—showing significant improvement.
The data also showed that a sizeable body of principals, 43 percent, remained less than fully satisfied with their central office. This may reflect facets of the effort that proved challenging. Staff members from most of the districts said that changing central office culture, along with reallocating work previously handled by supervisors, was a heavy lift. And in some districts, finding the resources necessary to reduce the supervisor-to-principal ratio was difficult.
In addition, the changes had little impact on how teachers viewed the performance of their principals compared with teacher views of principal performance in similar, non-initiative districts. That finding could have a number of explanations, the researchers say, including indications that districts nationwide, not just the initiative districts, have been changing the supervisor role in recent years.
The report ends with a series of lessons for districts considering changing the supervisor role, among them the value of investing in rigorous selection and training of supervisors and building buy-in for the new role from stakeholders such as school board members and central office staffers.