This report presents findings from a 2018 survey of principal supervisors in the six Principal Supervisor Initiative districts and 48 other large urban districts. In total, 343 principal supervisors responded to the survey, including 50 in the six initiative districts (a 96 percent response rate) and 293 in the 48 other urban districts surveyed (a 64 percent response rate). The districts were all members of the Council of the Great City Schools, a coalition of the nation’s largest urban public school systems.
The need to remake the principal supervisor role has gained attention in recent years. Traditionally the role focused on administrative tasks. But principals need more support from their supervisors to improve teaching and learning and carry out an increasingly complex job.
In 2014, six large school districts around the country began major changes to the principal supervisor position. They refocused the role on supporting principals to improve classroom instruction. The Wallace Foundation funded the four-year effort, called the Principal Supervisor Initiative.
This report compares principal supervision in the six districts with principal supervision in 48 other urban districts. The goal is to show where the initiative succeeded or lagged behind broader trends. The report can also serve as a roadmap for other districts wanting to redesign the principal supervisor role.
The study finds that the initiative districts had more structures to buttress the reconceived job than other districts. However, supervisor practices across all the districts were similar. That could suggest districts nationwide are taking steps to change the job.
The six districts participating in the initiative made structural changes to support the principal supervisor role. As a result, they showed these strengths compared with other urban districts:
Districts participating in the Principal Supervisor Initiative had some strengths in common with other urban districts. Researchers thought this was because many urban districts were also redesigning the principal supervisor role. Principal supervisors in both sets of districts spent about 65 percent of their time working with principals. Half of the time with principals was devoted to instructional leadership. Supervisors in both sets of districts also used similar instructional leadership practices with principals. This included visiting classrooms and analyzing data.
Notably, principal supervisors from both groups of districts shared similar frustrations with their central offices. Overall, only about one third of principal supervisors surveyed agreed that their central office facilitates their work with principals. Strengthening central office support for principal supervisors was the most challenging part of the work for districts.
There needs to be a common language and theme within the district. Oftentimes departments are doing the same thing, but not talking with one another.— Urban principal supervisor
The six districts participating in the Principal Supervisor Initiative were: