The principal supervisor job has traditionally revolved around administration, but in 2014 six large school districts around the country, with funding from The Wallace Foundation, began to redesign the supervisor position so it focused primarily on supporting principals in their role as instructional leaders. The idea was that this shift could help principals better carry out their efforts to improve teaching and learning in their schools.
A 2018 survey of supervisors in the six districts and in 48 other large districts nationwide finds that the Principal Supervisor Initiative districts introduced a number of structures for the new role. Initiative-district supervisors, on average, for example, oversaw fewer principals, reported more role-specific training, and rated the quality of their training more highly than supervisors elsewhere. The six districts also had a greater prevalence of programs for aspiring supervisors, as well as mentoring or induction programs for those new to the job. Further, supervisors in the six districts were far more likely than their counterparts in other districts (71 percent vs. 41 percent) to report that they were involved in the deployment of instructional support staff to their schools.
At the same time, the job practices of the supervisors in the six initiative districts and other large districts were similar in many ways. Supervisors in both spent about the same amount of their working time (65 percent) interacting with principals, and they used that time in similar ways, such as visiting schools. They both also devoted the biggest bulk of their time with principals to instructional leadership. This similarity of practices, the authors write, could reflect indications that districts nationwide, not just the initiative districts, may have moved in recent years to change the supervisor role.
“At the same time as the [initiative] unfolded, districts across the United States also were rethinking principal supervision, prompted by national conferences and workshops, new principal supervision standards, and other local efforts,” the report says. “However, the more intensive, sequential approach the PSI districts used to shift the focus of their principal supervisors’ work may have led to some changes above and beyond those in other urban districts.” Indeed, a striking difference between the two groups was the supervisors’ views of how they were evaluated. Initiative-district supervisors reported in higher percentages than the supervisors elsewhere that the evaluations reflected their role and were the basis of useful feedback.
One notable similarity between the initiative and non-initiative districts was some supervisor dissatisfaction with central offices, with only about one-third of respondents overall agreeing that “the district central office facilitates my work with principals.” The implication is that there is still work to do in building central office support for the reimagined supervisor job. The authors emphasize that “deep changes to the principal supervisor role require clearly articulated expectations for the focus of the supervisor role, including strong expectations for consistency of practices; alignment with central office culture and capacity; and continued opportunities for principal supervisors to learn and refine practices.”