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$3 million grant to help improve school leadership

7/3/2014, 2:54 p.m.

The DeKalb School District has a $3 million grant from the Wallace Foundation to help improve the instructional leadership skills of its principal supervisors and regional superintendents.

The grant, announced June 24, is intended to improve the quality of teaching and learning in schools with the provision of more effective instructional support to school-level leaders.

It is part of Wallace’s new five-year, $30 million national Principal Supervisor Initiative involving urban school districts across the country that is helping to shift the focus from bureaucratic compliance to principals’ performance.

In DeKalb, the grant will help to finance the cost of instructional training and increasing the number of regional superintendents to reduce the number of principals they supervise. DeKalb currently has five regional superintendents and each oversees an average of 27 principals.

Decentralizing authority, redirecting funding from the central office to the schoolhouse, and redefining the role of regional superintendents are key components of DeKalb Superintendent Michael Thurmond’s plan to improve academic growth and achievement.

Thurmond said it will be “a game-changer” for the school system.

“We are honored to have been selected by the Wallace Foundation to participate in this ground-breaking initiative,” he said.

DeKalb is among six school districts selected for the five-year effort. The others are Long Beach, Calif.; Des Moines, Iowa; Broward County, Fla.; Minneapolis; and Cleveland.

Wallace launched the new initiative because the often-overlooked regional superintendent position has emerged as central to improving principals’ performance.

Jody Spiro, Wallace’s director of education leadership, said the initiative will strengthen regional superintendents.

“In many large school districts, principal supervisors oversee too many principals – 24 on average – and focus too much on bureaucratic compliance,” Spiro said.

The initiative has four goals: rewriting regional superintendent job description to emphasize instructional support for principals; restructuring central offices and reducing the number of principals supervisors oversee; decentralizing financial resources and authority to the regional level; and assessing the effectiveness and effects of these activities across the districts.

Dr. Melvin Johnson, DeKalb School Board chairman, said the grant will bolster efforts to transform the school system.

“The additional funding and technical assistance provided by the Wallace Foundation will enhance and strengthen our ongoing efforts to transform and improve our school district,” he said.

The Principal Supervisor Initiative grew out of Wallace’s 14 years of work to improve school leaders.

Feedback from the field to the foundation suggested that principal supervisors often lacked the right training and support – and that this can jeopardize principal effectiveness.

The foundation originally invited 23 districts that had demonstrated a willingness and potential to transform their principal supervisor positions to submit grant applications.

Nationwide, there’s no consistency across districts about principal supervisor positions. Job titles and definitions vary. Hiring criteria can be vague, and these supervisors rarely have the training to help principals improve instruction. Another problem is that most principal supervisors say their top task is ensuring bureaucratic compliance with district procedures, instead of spending valuable time helping principals lead schools more effectively, the foundation said.

That concern was heightened with research Wallace commissioned from the Council of the Great City Schools, a coalition of the nation’s largest school districts, which released a report last fall, Rethinking Leadership: The Changing Role of Principal Supervisors.

Based in part on a survey with responses from 43 large school districts, the report found that principal supervisors – whose job titles range from area superintendent to zone supervisor to instructional coach – often juggle overseeing large numbers of principals with handling extensive administrative responsibilities. It concluded that many supervisors lack experience as human resources, operations or central office instructional administrators and don’t have access to instructionally focused professional development.

For more information, visit www.dekalb.k12.ga.us.