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5 ways to truly help principals succeed

New $24 million study examines how principal supervisors can play a key role in principals’ achievements
The Free Press WV

Principals and districts benefit when principal supervisors move beyond the role of administrator to coach and mentor, according to a new Vanderbilt University report.

It is the first of three studies of The Wallace Foundation’s Principal Supervisor Initiative, a four-year, $24 million effort studied by Vanderbilt and Mathematica Policy Research.

The report, “A New Role Emerges for Principal Supervisors: Evidence from Six Districts in the Principal Supervisor Initiative,” details the implementation of five key components to reshape the supervisor position in six large, urban school districts.

Each district changed the job descriptions and restructured central offices so that principal supervisors could step away from operational, administrative, and compliance tasks to coach, mentor and advise principals to be more effective as instructional leaders.

The six districts are: Broward County (FL) Public Schools, Baltimore City (MD) Public Schools, Cleveland (OH) Metropolitan School District, Des Moines (IA) Public Schools, Long Beach (CA) Unified School District, and Minneapolis (MN) Public Schools.

“Executive coaching is prevalent in high-performing organizations, but it’s not typically done in school districts,” says lead investigator Ellen Goldring, Patricia and Rodes Hart Professor of Educational Leadership and Policy at Vanderbilt’s Peabody College of education and human development. “After three years, we saw substantial change in all districts. They came up with efficient and effective ways to position supervisors so they could fill the coaching and supporting gap.”

“This new study shows us that school districts participating in the initiative could transform the principal supervisor role into a source of support for principals in leading, teaching and learning,” says Jody Spiro, director of education leadership at The Wallace Foundation. “Principals felt better supported and district culture and central office changed for the better. Importantly, the study also makes clear what is needed to make this change happen.”


5 components for restructuring principal supervisor role


1. Revise supervisor’s job description to focus on instructional leadership: Districts worked with stakeholders to revise the supervisor job description to outline the new expectations for the supervisor role, which moved toward a focus on supporting and developing principals in schools and away from overseeing compliance.

“These components laid the groundwork for changes in principal supervisors’ day-to-day work with principals,” Goldring said. “Most principal supervisors reported they now spend the largest share of their time, 63 percent, working directly with principals, engaging in newly developed routines and practices, such as participating in classroom walk-throughs, coaching principals, leading collaborative learning and providing ongoing feedback.”


2. Reduce the number of principals supervisors oversee: The supervisors in the study were initially responsible for an average of 17 principals, though some oversaw as many as 21, making it nearly impossible to meaningfully engage with them all. That number was reduced to an average of 12, with districts hiring additional supervisors. The number of supervisors who reported that they oversaw too many principals declined in every district. Supervisors created networks of principals to facilitate collaboration and learning communities.


3. Provide dedicated professional development: Districts implemented dedicated training programs specifically designed to build supervisors’ capacity in coaching and principal support and development in instruction. For many of them, it was the first time they were provided professional instruction that was crafted to their role. In spring 2017, 80 percent reported participating in such opportunities.


4. Redefine the central office’s role and functions: The districts made substantial progress in restructuring central offices to better align with the revised role of supervisors. They streamlined departments, dismantled barriers that stifled communication and improved processes, resulting in better integration and collaboration across departments.


5. Develop and cultivate new supervisors: Three districts developed and implemented apprenticeship programs, serving as a key strategy for preparing school leaders for principal supervisor positions. These programs featured rigorous selection procedures and offered a mix of training sessions, individual coaching and performance feedback, mentoring from a current principal supervisor, and shadowing of central office leaders.


Facing future challenges

Other school districts can learn from this study both by seeing what is feasible—that the role can be changed—and what is challenging, Goldring believes.

“Reducing the span of control requires districts to shift spending, which was not an option for some. In addition, districts changing the supervisor’s job description necessitated that they also change other central office roles, especially to figure out how to deal with some of the administrative tasks removed from supervisors’ responsibility,” she said. “The process required the balancing of expectations, deepening and developing effective practices for supervisors, and differentiating supports for principals.”

“It’s a heavy lift,” Goldring adds, “but this study represents an incredibly positive example of the power of the supervisor role and a hopeful story about the power of district reform.”

The next report, to be published in July 2019, will measure the Principal Supervisor Initiative’s impact on principal effectiveness. The third report, to be released in December 2019, will compare principal supervision in the six districts in this study with peers in other urban districts.

The study was conducted by Vanderbilt’s Ellen B. Goldring, Jason A. Grissom, Mollie Rubin, Laura K. Rogers and Michael Neel; and Mathematica Policy Research’s Melissa A. Clark.

~~  Laura Ascione ~~

An appropriate achievement would be for Mr. Cottril and Mr. Shackelford to get personally involved to help produce a comprehensive plan for positive changes in the County’s school system.

There are serious deficiencies with student achievement and nothing will improve unless there is an official and outstanding program in place to make needed changes.

We eagerly await hearing from the two new new board officers to learn their plans. Campaign promises were made for changes to make and we will learn if they will be carried out.

Comment by Tell Us BOE Master Plan  on  07.27.2018

The research findings are evidence that leadership over principals sets the stage for success or failure of schools. This means that the weakest link to contribute to failures can be superintendents who lack experiences and skills to be outstanding administrators.

In WV too often superintendents are chosen for the wrong reasons and that is why our education system lags behind other states. It is about corrupt power plays instead of doing what is right for kids.

One clue to not hiring the highest quality superintendent is if the individual would not be competitive for the position in a high performance WV school system.

Comment by DOE Education Researcher  on  07.27.2018

Its more than likely this school board will fall(jump most probably) into the trap of crony hires.

Give friend, family, or someone a ‘payback’ job.

Probably we will wind up with a family connected name calling the shots.
Why do you think we so often come up short on scores?

Nepotism favored job hires, rarely if ever, gives you the BEST person for a job.  To get the best you need to advertise outside the ‘circle’.

Comment by parent 3  on  07.28.2018

If you want to do something interesting diagram how certain individuals in Gilmer’s school system connect to one another through cronyism, nepotism, and other special relationships. That is what happens when organizations are ingrown and the best qualified “outsiders” are locked out when job openings occur.

Comment by Preferential Treatment Thrives  on  07.28.2018

In high performance counties superintendents review applications to boards when jobs open and when a matrix is used they see that information too.

When only a matrix is disclosed that can be too subjective because of the way entries are made by evaluators. Biased individuals inflate scores to show favoritism. 

It is known that in several counties most information about applicants is kept secret from boards and superintendents recommend individuals they want with expectations for rubber stamping.

Does anyone know how it is done in Gilmer County?

Comment by WVDE Insider  on  07.30.2018

It is factual that in school systems where openness prevails there is less suspicion, more trust, and citizens at all levels unite to contribute to having outstanding schools.

In closed systems with strict censoring there is constant strife detracting from having united fronts to help improve schools.

A symptom of closed systems is that word is always sent from administrators that everything in fine,  but when achievement test scores come in students fall short. Then, the cry from those in control is that the assessment tests were wrong!

Comment by Retired Gilmer Teacher  on  07.30.2018

to/WVDE insider.  ‘do we know how its done in Gilmer’....Ya’ boy do we!

We know the WVDE has messed up our school system, schools, administration, test scores….to the point it will take a generation or more to straight out.

Administration is leveling blame at service personnel for the shoddy design and substandard build issues.

Gilmer’s issues would make 2 week PBS mini-series.

Observant individuals understand well the 2 former state appointed superintendents and the ‘retired’ former college prez were the ‘call’ boys.  The ‘call boys’ who were way in over their heads with site selection, construction, design, etc.

The money squandered, has been estimated to be well over a million dollars. The question of flooding with the new elementary school is not “if” it will flood, but rather “when”.

Administrative incompetence will almost always try to blame their own failures on others.  Who are usually in a defenseless position.

Comment by watcher  on  07.30.2018

One of the biggest reasons for failure in WV education is the generations of Preferential Treatment.  Few will admit.  Fewer see it. A diagram would look more complicated than a spider web.

Comment by Kanawha  on  07.31.2018

When Gilmer’s superintendent recommends personnel actions how is it done? Does she provide back-up information for board members to review before voting or are just names provided? Where do checks and balances apply as they should to ensure that the best qualified are always selected?

Comment by Question to D. Cottril BOE Pres.  on  07.31.2018

There have been reoccurring concerns expressed about GC school board members not being allowed to review credentials of individuals selected for new positions.

End it by getting clarification from the Board’s lawyer pertaining to personnel information a board is entitled to review opposed to what has to be kept confidential from it.

The same WV laws for personnel information apply to all 55 counties.

Comment by Remove Doubt About BOE Access To Information  on  07.31.2018

If board members are only permitted to see names for personnel being recommended by the superintendent without reviewing all applications themselves how do they know before voting that the best applicants are recommended by the superintendent?

Sounds like personnel decisions are really a token procedural formality made to look like an objective way of doing business with full involvement of the board.

Comment by Doesn't Make Sense  on  08.01.2018

Service personnel spoke out clearly and often about shoddy work at the GCHS. They were not listened to and worse yet they were told to keep quiet. There should be a detailed accounting of where all the County’s facilities money went after intervention, who was involved with project oversight, who got money, and what went undone and botched. Take the issue to Governor Justice. He would get involved as he battles corruption, waste, and mismanagement. Start with Leading Creek, go on to the Arbuckle site, on to Cedar Creek, and finally to Hays City. The horrible story is there and it must be exposed.

Comment by The State Was Fully Responsible  on  08.02.2018

Yes, “The State Was Fully Responsible” for the immense waste of tax dollars in both Lewis and Gilmer counties.

There are a few who know well the story.  None with backbone to tell it.

No investigative news source to dig the truth for public information.

Millions of dollars lost.  The trail leads straight to the West Virginia Board of Education.  With willing underlings to help every step of the way.

Comment by Kanawha  on  08.03.2018

Reference in the Democrat to the County’s mess about the school budget because of improper record keeping is a red alarm.

It is evident what the previous school board was faced with during intervention with the State keeping sensitive information secret. What else will emerge from the wood work?

Who are the candidates and their special qualifications for the assistant principal job at the GCHS? The selection will be one of the most important ones in the near future to help get the school back on track with a winning administrative team.

Will politics and taking care of special families be put aside on this one or will we have business as usual?

Comment by BOE Tracker  on  08.03.2018

Far, far worse with contractor work at the new grade school. We learned early not to rock the boat when we noticed problems with contractors. Should be a record if paper work and hard drives are still available.

How about checking on this on Mr. Cottril?

We were warned not to say anything to anyone about the new school being too small while knowing that Leading Creek was built too large and it still has vacant rooms.

The State was in total control from start to finish with everything and local involvement was forbidden. You see what that got us, and we will be paying the price for years to come.

Comment by Classified Staff  on  08.03.2018

Solid reporting about the BOE in the Democrat related to the no-excuse budget tracking scandal verifies that criticality important information was kept from the previous school board and the public.

GFP readers were warned for years that withholding of key information was occurring. Those who attempt to keep up on BOE business have a legitimate reason to question how much other information was kept secret during intervention.

Student achievement, personnel actions including involvement of nepotism and favoritism, and administrate decisions associated with consolidating schools are among subjects being questioned.

There was an underground effort in the County to discredit those in the past who questioned irregular activities under intervention. They were attacked by calling them busy bodies.

The excess levy was passed because we wanted to help children. With the recent budget scandal we question if that money was spent on its intended purpose in the past.

Henceforth we want every excess levy penny to be accounted for. If the money was misspent in the past we want that exposed.

We are counting on Mrs. Lowther and the new BOE to end secrecy. That expectation is reasonable for the benefit of the County’s children and taxpayers.

Comment by BOE School Finances Scandal  on  08.06.2018

There is more scandal in the GCBOE and WVDE than people realize.

The entire local BOE that worked under Blankenship know just how many files and documents the had to run through the paper shredder..

Most likely Manchin’s cousin, state appointed superintendent, Devano did the same thing?  How about it, GCBOE employees?  You know.

The West Virginia Department of Education gave Gilmer the biggest scandal, the biggest black eye, of the past 100 years.

Now, when will your flood zone built school flood, Gilmer County?  Everyone knows it not ‘if’ but ‘when’?

THERE WAS *NO* ACCOUNTABILITY AND *NO* OVERSIGHT BY THE WEST VIRGINIA BOARD OF EDUCATION. 

If they claim there was, then the only other possible reason for the multiple failures, can be nothing other than complete incompetence?  Thank you WVDE.

Comment by Kanawha  on  08.06.2018

Saw that a Mr. Paine was suggested for the assistant GCHS principal. If hired it would be helpful for the County to see printed background coverage for the person to get to know about him. The information would introduce him to those of us who do not know the gentleman.

Comment by GCHS Needs Improved  on  08.06.2018

Gilmer.  Do not expect much from your new board of ed.  Think you have 3 new members?  It will take them a year at least before they get the idea of what they can and cannot do.

I believe some of your new board is connected to previous members who are likely owned by some faction with questionable intentions.  Left overs from your days of intervention I’d guess.

Good luck!  Gilmer BOE.  You will need it.

Citizens and school staff.  Hold your board members feet to the fire and do the job right.

That’s what it will take you.

Comment by Lewis County  on  08.06.2018

It is commonly heard that when the State was in control sensitive records in the school board office were shredded, hard drives were removed and replaced with clean ones, and selected telephone records were eliminated.

Mr. Cottrill a request is made to you and Ms. Lowther to get straight answers to the community.

Involving unbiased and competent investigators should occur. Board office employees who were there when the State was in control know one way or another what happened, but they may be reluctant to provide information out of fear.

If community perceptions turn out to based on facts what are the legal implications, exactly what records were destroyed, and why did the destruction occur?

This concern is too important for the category of “forget the past and move on”.

The “forget and move on” attitude seems to be code for cover up because it is repeated too often in Gilmer County.

Comment by Provide The True Facts  on  08.07.2018

New board members know from initial training that an individual member has no more authority than a dog on a tight leash.

This means that individual members are not authorized to give orders to any employee in a school system, all directives must be through a majority board member vote directly to a superintendent reporting to a board, and that individual is held accountable for carrying out directives.

The message is that boards govern and superintendents administer.

If there is failure for a superintendent to perform as a board directs that can result in an unsatisfactory performance evaluation and in some cases be grounds for insubordination with penalties.

Two major problems with boards are failures to give a superintendents timely and clearly defined objectives for administration of a school system and failures to document substandard superintendent performances when annual reviews occur.

The clear separation of authority of boards versus superintendents mentioned above is designed to prevent tendencies by some board members to attempt to engage in personal micromanagement in school systems.

Imposition of the necessity of a majority board vote for what a superintendent is supposed to do functions to promote thoughtful input from all elected members to contribute to wiser school system decisions to lessen internal conflicts.

Comment by Kanawha County Observer  on  08.07.2018

The new school board is commended for deciding to assign Mr. David Ramezan to serve on the audit committee and to be the rep to the Career Center.

There are expectations for the new board to produce and the decisions demonstrate openness to assigning the best people to serve in special capacities. 

We expect Gilmer County to be a WV front runner in educating our kids and that includes using finances optimally to get the most for education dollars and to provide superior career training for students electing to go that route.

Comment by Audit and Career Center Assignments  on  08.08.2018

There was a comment about need to be on a school board for 1-2 years before learning how to be an effective member.

Having been on a board for 22 years and observing how newly elected members respond I agree with the statement.

After getting elected it is normal for new members to feel overwhelmed with all the rules, regulations, and procedures in effect to address proper functions of school boards.

A new board member has two options. One is to simply show up at meeting as a seat warmer to get a pay check for doing nothing.

The second choice is to accept that being on a board is a serious responsibility with children’s futures at stake and it takes hard work and dedication to learn roles and responsibilities to carry out.

Consider personnel actions as one example. To attempt to protect as much independence as possible it is common for some superintendents to be parsimonious with material shared with boards.

To overcome this constraint new board members should demand written documentation on personnel information they are entitled to review before voting on a superintendent’s personnel recommendations.

What if there is not official documentation in your county defining a board’s entitled access to personnel information?

Instead of wasting money on lawyers to provide guidance get your board to submit a formal request to your superintendent to provide WV’s rules for boards applicable in all of the State’s 55 school systems.

The information exists and it is unnecessary to reinvent the wheel to waste time and money.

Comment by Welcome New Board Members  on  08.10.2018
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