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First-Ever Professional Standards for Principal Supervisors Released

The first-ever standards meant to clarify what principal supervisors should know and be able to do to help principals improve teaching and learning in schools were released on Monday.

The model standards break down the job of principal supervisors—the people who evaluate and coach principals and have a range of different job titles—into three broad areas. They look at the supervisors' role in helping principals become better instructional leaders; the supervisors' role as liaisons between schools and central offices; and the supervisors' own responsibility to ensure that they continue to improve and develop as district leaders.

The eight standards are voluntary and are rooted in principal supervisor performance standards developed by the University of Washington's District Leadership Design Lab.

The standards describe specific benchmarks, along with steps that supervisors should take to meet them. They deal with the supervisor's role in areas such as evaluations and support, helping principals to foster inclusive learning environments, and advocating for equitable distribution of school resources.

The first standard, for example, says that "principal supervisors should dedicate their time to helping principals grow as instructional leaders."  Actions include spending time in schools observing principals and the impacts of their leadership; helping principals improve teacher-effectiveness, student learning, and achievements; and identifying central office and other support for principals so that supervisors can focus on instructional leadership.

You can view all eight standards here.

The standards can be used to help guide recruitment, plan professional development, and help districts to think and plan strategically for the position, according to the Council of Chief State School Officers, which released the benchmarks. They are meant to be useful to states, districts, education leadership preparation programs, and those who deliver professional development for education leaders.

The CCSSO noted that the standards were not expected to serve as job descriptions because principal supervisors' duties vary widely from district to district.

"These new standards bring much-needed clarity to the role of principal supervisors," Chris Minnich, the executive director of the CCSSO, said in a statement. "The standards will enable states and districts to elevate the role of supervisors so they can focus on helping principals improve instruction, learning and ultimately student achievement."

The supervisor standards land nearly a month after revised professional standards for educational leaders were released.

A Focus on Principal Supervisors

The principal supervisors' role has come into sharper focus in recent years, with the emphasis shifting from ensuring compliance to rules and regulations to coaching principals to become better at preparing students to be college and career-ready.

But the scope, duties, and number of principals that supervisors oversee vary from district to district. A 2013 study by the Council of the Great City Schools, for example, found that the number of principals overseen by one supervisor can be as high as 67, as it was in New York City when the survey was taken.

Since then, districts have been increasingly zeroing-in on the position. In January, Education Week looked at how some districts from Omaha, Neb., to Denver, Colo., to Jacksonville, Fla., were reshaping the job, requiring that supervisors spend more time in schools and making changes in their central offices to support both the supervisors and principals.

"Having principal supervisors spend significant time in schools coaching principals is a relatively new concept for most school districts," said MaryAnn Jobe, the director of leadership development at AASA, The School Superintendents Association. "As a result, the districts don't yet have the necessary structures in place to support that type of work. It will take some time for districts to redesign the role of principal supervisors so they are spending most of their time building principals' capacity."

The Wallace Foundation launched an initiative last year to redefine the role of principal supervisors in eight districts and track the impact.  Even districts that did not receive the grant—such as Omaha—are forging ahead. (The Wallace Foundation provides some support to Education Week for coverage of extended learning time and leadership.)

The foundation also provided financial support to the CCSSO to "refresh" the professional standards for school leaders, formerly known as ISLLC, and to develop the supervisor standards.

"These standards come at a time when we are learning more about the importance of principal supervisors in developing school leaders as instructional leaders,"  Jody Spiro, the foundation's director of education leadership, said in a statement to Education Week. 

Spiro said that in the eight districts that are intensely focusing on the supervisors, the foundation was "already seeing that changing the role of principal supervisor is having an impact across the district—from schools to the central office—in delivering the kind of mentoring and ongoing support that is valued by principals, especially those in their first years on the job."

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