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Study Points to Strategies for Shifting Principal Supervisor Roles

A new study of The Wallace Foundation’s Principal Supervisor Initiative (PSI) identifies successful ways for principal supervisors’ jobs to be refocused to more effectively support principals’ instructional leadership.

Typically, principal supervisors in large, urban districts are assigned to oversee too many principals, in addition to numerous district tasks, to be able to have an impact on principals’ effectiveness as educational leaders. The PSI aimed to improve this situation by addressing five core components: (a) revising supervisors’ job description to focus on instructional leadership, (b) reducing the number of principals in each supervisor’s case load, (c) developing supervisors’ capacity so support principals, (d) developing systems to identify and train new supervisors, and (e) strengthening central office structures to support and sustain these changes.

According to the new report, all six PSI districts successfully demonstrated the feasibility of making changes across all of these components:

Most principal supervisors now spend the largest share of their time in schools engaging in newly developed routines and practices, such as participating in classroom walk-throughs, coaching principals, and providing ongoing feedback. In some districts, they also work with assistant principals or school leadership teams. They focus less on administration and building operations than in the past. They also focus less on compliance activities, such as monitoring supplies and ensuring district and state forms are completed correctly and submitted on time. Principal supervisors also consistently meet with groups of principals to provide opportunities for collaborative learning. (p. vii)

The study, A New Role Emerges for Principal Supervisors: Evidence From Six Districts in the Principal Supervisor Initiative, documents districts’ experience with the PSI as reported in a series of interviews and from surveys with participants. The PSI included Broward County Public Schools (FL), Baltimore City Public Schools (MD), Cleveland Metropolitan School District (OH), Des Moines Public Schools (IA), Long Beach Unified School District (CA), and Minneapolis Public Schools (MN).

The study was conducted by researchers from Vanderbilt University (TN) and Mathematica Policy Research: Ellen B. Goldring, Jason A. Grissom, Mollie Robin, Laura K. Rogers, and Michael Neel of Vanderbilt’s Peabody College, and Melissa A. Clark of Mathematica.

Additional reports on the PSI are planned, one examining the initiative’s effect on principals’ performance and another comparing supervisors’ role in the participating districts with that of principals in other urban districts.

AACTE is a communications partner of The Wallace Foundation.

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Amanda Lester

Director, Programs & Professional Learning, AACTE