The Wallace Foundation is investing $3 million in a five-year effort to help the DeKalb County School District improve the instructional leadership skills of its principals and regional superintendents.
The DeKalb grant is part of Wallace’s new $30-million national Principal Supervisor Initiative involving 14 urban school districts across the country.
“We are honored to have been selected by the Wallace Foundation to participate in this groundbreaking initiative” stated DeKalb County School Superintendent Michael Thurmond. “This is a game-changer for the DeKalb School System.”
DeKalb has come under scrutiny for its graduation rates. In May, 24 percent (1,456) of the county’s 4,498 students did not receive their diplomas. Only two of DeKalb’s 25 high schools – DeKalb Early College Academy with 37 seniors and DeKalb School of the Arts with 67 seniors – graduated their entire senior class.
School officials are looking at a number of ways to improve the rate.
The Wallace Foundation launched this initiative because the often overlooked regional superintendent position has emerged as central to improving principals’ performance and ultimately, student achievement.
“In many large school districts, principal supervisors oversee too many principals – 24 on average – and focus too much on bureaucratic compliance,” said Jody Spiro, Wallace’s director of education leadership.
The initiative has four goals:
Wallace originally invited 23 districts that had demonstrated a willingness and potential to transform their principal supervisor positions to submit grant applications. DeKalb and five other districts were selected because they were among “the nation’s most advanced school districts in recognizing the importance of the regional superintendent position,” foundation officials said.
In addition to DeKalb, the other districts are Long Beach (California), Des Moines (Iowa), Broward County (Florida), Minneapolis (Minneappolis) and Cleveland (Ohio).
In DeKalb, the grant will help to finance the cost of instructional training and increase the number of regional superintendents while reducing 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 school house and redefining the role of regional superintendents are key components of Superintendent Thurmond’s plan to improve academic growth and achievement.
“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,” said Dr. Melvin Johnson, chairman of the DeKalb County School Board.
The six districts will also participate in an independent, $2.5-million evaluation that will help answer whether and how boosting the supervisor post leads to more effective principals.
The new 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. 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.
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 a human resources, operations or central-office instructional administrators and don’t have access to instructionally-focused professional development.
The Wallace Foundation is an independent, national foundation dedicated to supporting and sharing effective ideas and practices that expand learning and enrichment opportunities for children.