What’s in a name? More than you might think. In one district, the individual responsible for supervising principals is an Executive Director, in another a Chief School Officer, in another a Learning Community Superintendent. Wrapped up in a multitude of titles are countless roles, responsibilities, and expectations for an individual who sits at the center of reform efforts in a school district. With limited time and resources, what should be the primary role of the principal supervisor?
In many districts, this role has historically been relied upon to manage school operations, handle school crises, resolve parent issues, and ensure schools are in compliance. In other words, success in this role is often viewed as ‘keeping the wheels on’ at the school level, keeping issues off the superintendent’s plate, and staying out of newspaper headlines.
A recent report released in October by The Wallace Foundation and the Council of Great City Schools, Rethinking Leadership: The Changing Role of Principal Supervisors, provides a detailed look at this role. The report found that many principal supervisors have extensive administrative oversight responsibilities with little room remaining for managing talent and developing the capacity of the principals they supervise.
Many districts have made significant investments in the principal pipeline, identifying and developing high-quality principal candidates who will ultimately transition into the school-leadership role. To maximize this investment, districts are now turning their attention to the systems of support and development for sitting principals. At the center of this effort is the principal supervisor.
Hillsborough County Public Schools (HCPS) in Tampa, Florida is doing cutting-edge work in this area. After implementing a nationally recognized principal-pipeline system of identifying, recruiting, developing, and selecting school leaders, the district ramped up the support and development of its principal supervisors.
To set the stage for a change in this role and to emphasize the leadership development responsibility of the position, the district changed the name from Area Director to Area Leadership Director (ALD). ALDs then participated in a summer institute, facilitated by C&J, to begin framing and supporting the ALD role as talent developers, rather than administrative managers. The ALDs used the HCPS School Leader Standards and Competencies as a guide to discuss the developmental needs of their principals. They then made plans to provide differentiated support and coaching for each of the principals they supervised with the end goal of an effective principal in every school.
As the country begins to pay more attention to the principal supervisor and the critical role they play in ensuring schools are led by high-performing principals, eyes should turn to the lessons being generated in HCPS. We expect Hillsborough’s important work to enable the district to provide better support to principals across the district, while serving as a model for urban districts around the country to follow.
In education policy circles, a lot of attention tends to center on those districts and states receiving high profile grants to take on major reform efforts. But there is one district out there that should not be overlooked.
Omaha Public Schools may not be on most people’s radar screen. In fact, Nebraska is one of only a handful of states that has neither adopted the Common Core State Standards nor received a waiver from the No Child Left Behind Act. But keep your eye on Omaha–over the next couple of years, it has the potential to make significant improvements that will result in much higher levels of student learning and engagement.
After years of persistent low achievement and a fortress-like mentality, the district stands ready to do great things. Among other recent developments, the Nebraska legislature revised the OPS board of education structure, the business and civic communities supported the successful election of progressive, action-oriented board members (most of whom won), and the board hired a new superintendent, Mark Evans, with a track record of public engagement and sound instruction. As a result of these changes, the business community in Omaha–which includes major players such as Berkshire Hathaway, ConAgra, and PayPal to name just a few–has pledged its support for the district’s efforts.
This is all on top of the district having one of the best instructional frameworks that I have ever seen. The framework–developed by Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment ReNae Kehrberg–describes the district’s instructional philosophy and defines high-impact instructional strategies, outlines expectations for principals and instructional leaders for coaching teachers, and includes formative assessments aligned to state standards and the curriculum. When C&J and partner firm UPD Consulting completed a district wide review earlier this year, we were impressed to find that most principals in the district agreed that the framework is outstanding and backed by the best professional development they have ever had.
Cross & Joftus and our friends at UPD Consulting have been working with the district for the last few months to begin the development of a strategic plan (see my blog post from October 17), and the sense of excitement and urgency in the district and community is palpable. Now, this is not to say that progress will be easy. The district must prove to the community that it is serious about making change. And we all know of many promising initiatives and reforms that have ended up in failure. But Omaha has the people, tools, and drive to increase the rigor of instruction and raise student achievement district wide.
As I said, keep an eye on Omaha.
The history of special education in America has deep roots in larger educational reform movements. Next year, we will celebrate 40 years of federal civil rights legislation for children with disabilities via the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or IDEA. More recently, we have witnessed passage of other federal and state legislation such as NCLB, the growth of the charter school movement, and the national push to implement the Common Core Standards and the assessments that will accompany them. These laudable and forward-looking efforts, though not without flaws, have improved opportunities for all students.
Still, special education in many school systems remains largely segmented from overall improvement efforts. Special education is often about providing students with disabilities access to general education classrooms and curriculum materials. Access, as you likely know, is not enough. For students with disabilities to meet rigorous standards, they must be supported through a system of services and strategies that help each child progress through a high-quality general education curriculum with the specialized supports and assistance that they require.
Consider special education in the 1960’s. We only had programs/places for students with sensory disabilities: schools for the deaf or blind or hospitals where doctors, social workers, and sometimes family members, would say, “Put this child there, they can’t do anything, they won’t learn, they’ll be better off.” Some programs for the mentally retarded did exist, but few were consistently available and most warehoused those students. Speech and language services were available in some schools and systems, again not consistently. The Education for All Handicapped Children Act in 1975 changed the world for these children and their families. What occurred with the passage of this legislation was that for the first time more than 6.5 million students with disabilities went to school! These children finally had access but it was access to a place, not necessarily a quality education. Then and, sadly, now special education is far too often about finding a “place” to provide an education for students with disabilities. Outcome data show that educational supports for students with disabilities are not where they need to be. National graduation rates and academic achievement levels for students with disabilities are significantly lower than those of their nondisabled peers.
Until school systems finally accept that educating all students is their responsibility and students with disabilities are granted access to rigorous educational opportunities and expected to learn at high levels, we will not fulfill our promise to these young people.
In my work with school systems that are attempting to change how they support special education students, I focus on three seemingly simple beliefs.
- Instruction is the key. Teaching and learning strategies that lead to high levels of rigor and engagement are the best way to support all students.
- As members of the educational professional community, we are all responsible for all students.
- We must break down adult barriers to achieve systemic coherence so that all resources, programs, and policies support all students achieving at high levels.
Once we have mutually agreed on these three beliefs, we begin to answer several questions:
- Does the district or charter and its schools communicate high expectations for all students’ success?
- Do all students have access to an appropriately rigorous curriculum that is aligned to standards and assessments?
- Do all students have access to high-impact instructional strategies and performance monitoring that determines when there are problems?
- When students are struggling, do they have access to high-impact interventions designed and implemented with fidelity to address their specific needs?
- To what extent do all adults take mutual responsibility for all students’ success?
High-quality special education is about great teaching, differentiation, and access to the core curriculum with appropriate supports. Leadership and collaboration across all parts of the system are necessary to promote the best possible results for all students. Engaging an entire system of educators to support every student involves utilizing assessment data to inform instructional supports, as well as developing and consistently applying tiered interventions across the system to support all learners.
We can develop systems, policies, procedures, and practices that lead to improved outcomes for all of our students. It is not a matter of skill or of money. It is a matter of will and a clear focus and high expectations for all students. As our educational systems begin this work, our students with disabilities will rise to the occasion and amaze us all!
Finding ways to reallocate resources and improve student outcomes has become an urgent task for many districts. The need to do more with less in an era of tight budgets, find funding to start up or sustain new reforms, and address issues of equity all are spurring resource allocation discussions. In addition, new data systems that capture finance, human resources, and student information mean that districts can evaluate the effectiveness of their resource use in ways that were not possible just a few years ago. With support from districts and national foundations, the C&J finance team has been helping districts use data to allocate resources in ways that increase student achievement. Through this work, we are seeing first hand what it really takes to align resources with priorities and goals. In this first post, we share a few lessons we have learned so that more district and school leaders can benefit from the experience of their peers.
Cross & Joftus, along with our good friends at UPD Consulting, recently began engagements with two urban districts (one in the Midwest and the other on the East Coast) to conduct comprehensive needs analyses and facilitate the development of strategic plans. Both districts have new superintendents so this seems like an appropriate time for the districts to do some in-depth planning and for me to do some reflecting on planning in big urban districts.
C&J and UPD have worked in a number of districts in this capacity–Buffalo (NY), Camden (NJ), Dallas (TX), Rogers (AR) and Topeka (KS) to name a few. These experiences have helped me to derive several lessons. Here are three–I will continue to share more in this space down the road:
Districts around the country are hard at work to solve the talent dilemma: how can we attract, develop and strategically retain the best and brightest staff to help our students succeed? At the forefront of their work is the effort to ensure a successful teacher in every classroom and a visionary principal in every school. With teacher evaluation reforms well underway, many districts have articulated what they expect their educators to be able to know and do. Now they are faced with the critical task of aligning their talent management efforts with those expectations to enable the success of their workforce.
We have been honored to work with a number of district leadership teams approaching these challenges in innovative ways. We are struck by the common issues they face and impressed by the diverse approaches they use to address key obstacles.
This is the time that people, and especially school teachers and children, talk about how they spent their summer vacation. Not wanting to break tradition, I’ll share some of my summer.
The free time that I did have was spent in working on a new edition of Political Education, my book on federal education policy, as I have a contract for a new edition to be published next year.
When I started the project, I had hoped to include a nice neat chapter that summarized passage of an ESEA reauthorization bill. Boy, was that optimistic! While the House passed a bill in July and the Senate HELP committee has finalized their version, they are miles apart in philosophy and design. Indeed, with the next round of Congressional elections but 14 months away and Washington beset with decisions about everything from the national debt ceiling to agency budgets, sequestration, and various military conflicts across the globe, to say nothing of privacy and national security, it is nearly impossible to see how it gets done in this, the 113th Congress.