Principals Say Coaching, Not Compliance, Is What They Need From Central Office


In six districts that changed the role of the administrators who oversee principals, those supervisors are spending more time in schools—coaching principals and helping them become better instructional leaders.

Seventy-six percent of principals in those districts said that their bosses usually or always provided them with “actionable feedback,” as a result of the time spent in their schools.

Those districts also started programs to train current and future principal supervisors. They also largely made changes in their central offices so that principal supervisors could focus much more on instructional leadership and less on operations and compliance. And, on average, those districts reduced the number of principals that supervisors were tasked with overseeing, from an average of 17 to 12 over a period of three years.

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Those are some of the findings from a Vanderbilt University and Mathematica Policy Research study on the implementation of the first three years of a four-year, $24 million principal supervisor initiative in six urban school systems that is funded by the Wallace Foundation.

The six districts in the initiative are Broward County, Fla., Baltimore city schools, Cleveland, Des Moines, Long Beach, Calif., and Minneapolis.

The report, based on interviews and surveys with central office staffers, principals, and principal supervisors, is the first of three on the initiative. A second, due next July, will look at the impact of the initiative on principal effectiveness.

“I see this as a good news story about district reform and change,” said Ellen Goldring, the report’s lead author and a professor of educational leadership and policy at Vanderbilt University.

While there were variations among the districts—they all started in different places—Goldring said that focusing on the principal supervisor role led to structural and cultural shifts in the central office and ultimately in the districts. In redefining the role of the principal supervisors, districts had to rethink how resources were allocated to schools, how schools were supported, and how schools were grouped.

“This is not just a role change, and everything else in the district stays the same,” she said. “If there is not holistic support to changing the role of the supervisor, there won’t be real change.”

When the New York City-based Wallace Foundation launched the program in 2014, principal supervisor was a catch-all term that meant different things in different districts.

Principal supervisors spent the bulk of their time ensuring that principals complied with district rules and regulations and less time on evaluating and coaching them and helping them become better at their jobs. They were in charge of too many principals—the average “span” (the number of schools a supervisor oversaw) was 25, according to a 2013 report by the organization that represents the nation’s urban school districts, the Council of the Great City Schools. And across districts, there was very little uniformity in what principal supervisors were expected to do and who did the job.

Reshuffling the Central Office

Part of the initiative involved coming up with a clear job description of what supervisors should do. The role was supposed to focus on instructional leadership. The other areas of focus included reducing the number of principals that supervisors oversaw, training supervisors to better support principals; creating systems to spot and develop future supervisors; and changing the central office to support supervisors and principals.

The Wallace Foundation expected the changes in the central office to occur later, as the program progressed, but realized as early as a year into the initiative that districts were already reshuffling the central office to support principal supervisors in their newly-defined roles, said Jody Spiro, the foundation’s director of education leadership.

It made sense. If supervisors were no longer generally in charge of compliance or were doing less of it, someone else had to pick up those responsibilities.

“It’s a lesson we learned,” Spiro said. “It can’t be done after four years. As you change the principal supervisor position, you automatically have to make changes in your central office.”

All six districts created new positions or tinkered with existing roles to take on some of the non-instructional responsibilities that principal supervisors previously had on their plates. And some districts created support teams (which included representatives from other departments) and liaisons to help both principals and principal supervisors. Districts also worked to streamline communications between central office and schools.

Minneapolis, for example, created the position of a deputy superintendent for operations in 2015, and Baltimore added a building manager to deal with issues related to operations and maintenance.

Did it help?

Supervisors are now spending most of their time—63 percent—in schools or with principals, according to the report.

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The percentage of principal supervisors who felt that the central office structure interfered with their work fell from 51 percent in 2016 to 36 percent in 2017, the report said.

Still, some principals still did not know who to contact when an issue arose in their schools, and in 2017, only 44 percent said they thought central office was organized to support principals, according to the report. (That was an improvement from 35 percent the previous year.)

Sixty-three percent said they thought improving teaching and learning was an important focus of the central office, though a majority also said they lost time focusing on teaching and learning because of central office requests.

Another notable finding, according to Spiro, was that principals said they trusted their supervisors to be both evaluators and coaches.

Principal supervisors are also now leading professional learning communities. Before the supervisor initiative, meetings with principals were primarily about sharing information, according to the report. Those meetings are now geared toward learning and include things like school walk throughs and professional development for principals in some cases, according to the report.

Districts have also developed training systems to prepare future principal supervisors. Three districts—Cleveland, Broward and Long Beach—developed apprenticeship programs to recruit and train the next crop of principal supervisors. Completing the apprenticeship program, however, is not a requirement for being hired in those districts as a principal supervisor.

In those districts, principal supervisors have become an additional step on the career ladder for educators, Goldring said.

Striking a Balance

But there were also some challenges. Districts are still struggling with finding the right balance between how much time supervisors should spend with principals and how much time they should devote to operations and central office duties. Supervisors in some cases are struggling to distinguish between instructional leadership and high-quality instruction, and differentiating supports for principals based on school needs and context remains a challenge.Supervisor turnover and assignment changes were also problems in some of the districts. Districts also need to develop high-quality principal evaluations, according to the report.

Among the recommendations: Districts should work on creating high-quality training and collaborative time for supervisors. They should also develop a shared definition of instructional leadership. Districts should continue to work on finding and training future principal supervisors, as well as think about how the initiative will continue beyond the grant period.

Goldring also has questions she’d like answered in the future, including whether principal supervisors who were not part of the program will have the same focus and commitment to the initiative and how district leadership changes will affect the work going forward.

Changing the role of the principal supervisor can have a ripple effect in districts, Spiro said. Other districts can use the experience of the participants in the principal supervisor initiative as a guide, she said.

“This initiative all began because we were looking at central office redesign for years. And it’s a really heavy lift. And the notion that we are testing out is, by virtue of changing the principal supervisor position, can that be the catalyst that lead to both changes for schools and changes in central office?”

The answer, she said, is yes.

It also doesn’t take a lot of resources to do so, Goldring said.

“Everyone talks about capacity and will,” she said. “This is more about will.”

You can read the full report, A New Role Emerges for Principal Supervisors: Evidence From Six Districts in the Principal Supervisor Initiative, here.

Images: A New Role Emerges for Principal Supervisors: Evidence From Six Districts in the Principal Supervisor Initiative.

3 Minutes August 21, 2018

Chairman Gilliss, Vice Chair Stewart, Superintendent White, and Members of the Board,

Tonight, you will be asked to approve a strategic, limited reorganization of BCPS executive leadership. The Council of Administrative and Supervisory Employees is in full support of this reorganization. There are several reasons for this.

First, this reorganization supports the vision of the superintendent – Literacy and School Culture. The creation of a Division of School Climate and Safety, with dedicated and focused chief level leadership, speaks directly to the degree of importance, and leverage of this division. It addresses concerns regarding student safety voiced by all stakeholders, as it aligns resources for the physical and social emotional needs of our students, creating a more viable conduit to the schoolhouse. It also ensures the effective use of additional staffing given to BCPS by the late County Executive Kamenetz.

Secondly, at the last Board meeting I spoke to you about my enthusiasm for the commitment from System leadership, to ongoing collaboration between and amongst zone leadership. This helps to create much needed consistency and inter-rater reliability around principal growth and evaluation. I said that the most important thing an executive director does is increase the skills of the building principal.

This reorganization allows executive directors to supervise a far more manageable number of principals thereby increasing their ability to coach, supervise, and grow principal effectiveness. The move from 4 Zones to 3 begins to address the concerns CASE has had regarding consistency as well.

Lastly, this reorganization speaks to both of Superintendent White’s foci based on her vision. A good leader has a vision, shares it, lives it, and supports it in any number of ways, but most noticeably, by organizing resources and staff to support the vision, and Ms. White is an excellent instructional leader.

Some may suggest that reorganization should wait until a new superintendent is named. CASE feels however, that we have waited long enough, and frankly we support Ms. White as the next superintendent. We applaud the fact that Ms. White is putting her fingerprints on the System and we encourage her to continue. Because, as Louise Heath Leber says: “There’s always room for improvement – it’s the biggest room in the house.”

Thank you
Tom DeHart
CASE Executive Director

Cellphone Stipends for School Administrators

The BCPS Cell Phone Stipend Workgroup has recently reviewed cellphone stipend guidelines for all principals and assistant principals. The preliminary information below is being shared to make school administrators aware of this review process and that a recommendation for standardized stipends across all schools will be
forthcoming. At this time, the following recommendations are being made by the Cell Phone Stipend Workgroup:

1. All administrators should be able to receive and respond to emergency emails from the office of school safety; all administrators should be available to address other emergent matters in a timely fashion when they are away from their desk/office.

2. All assistant principals and principals should receive the cell phone stipend at the $56 (data) and $53 (phone) rate.

3. Cell phone stipends will continue be charged against the school-based operating budget.

4. Based on the guidelines that all principals and assistant principals should receive a stipend, stipends that are being added/initiated now should be effective July 1, 2018. Current school administrators will receive their stipends retroactive to July. School administrators who are assigned to new positions in August or later will not receive the July retroactive stipend.

Pursuant to these recommendations, principals are asked to take action now to implement cellphone stipends as necessary for themselves and their assistant principal(s).

If you are currently receiving a cellphone stipend that is above the recommended $56 (data) and $53 (phone) rate, you are not being asked to change your stipend amount at this time. However, more information about stipend rates will be communicated as the Cell Phone Stipend Workgroup continues its review.

Tom DeHart
Executive Director, CASE

Recent Board Comments

Chairman Gilliss, Vice Chair Stewart, Superintendent White, and
Members of the Board,

In January of this year I spoke to this Board of the necessity to provide essential professional development to the Community Superintendents and Executive Directors in the 4 System Zones around the shift in supervision of Principals from an outdated compliance mindset to one of coaching and support to improve the principals’ capacity for instructional leadership. I shared then that, sadly, there was great inconsistency within and between the Zones as to how principals were supported and evaluated.

Tonight, I am most pleased to share with you that under the leadership of Superintendent White, COE Billy Burke, and the Community Superintendents, BCPS has committed to changing that paradigm.

For the last few months, a representative workgroup has worked diligently to rework the principal evaluation which is framed by the 10 Professional Standards for Educational Leaders (PSELs). Through a partnership with CASE, a meaningful and purposeful framework has been developed. This framework however, isn’t worth the paper on which it is printed if not implemented effectively and consistently across the system.

To ensure the fidelity of the implementation of this evaluation system, the leadership staff in all Zones have participated in unpacking the philosophy and strategies in supervising principals as laid out in the PSEL companion document Voluntary Standards for Principal Supervisors. In addition to this initial professional development for all Zone staff, the executive directors will meet regularly over the course of this school year as a professional learning community to share experiences, seek clarification, and learn from one another.

This ongoing collaboration between zone leadership will help create much needed consistency and inter-rater reliability. Amid everything an executive director does, by far the most important is increasing the skills of the building principal. This will be a heavy lift with new learning and mind sets on all sides. I am convinced however that this continuous growth model is an absolute necessary component to improve student achievement.

Thank you
Tom DeHart
CASE Executive Director

3 Minutes May 28, 2018

At each Baltimore County Board of Education meeting, CASE has three minutes to present information to the board in the interest of our organization. The following is a transcript from one of those meetings.

Good evening Chairman Gilliss, Vice Chair Stewart, Superintendent White, and members of the Board.

I want to share my remarks made to the Maryland State Board of Education this morning.

I am Tom DeHart, Executive Director of the Council of Administrative and Supervisory Employees of the Baltimore County Public Schools. Seated with me are Cheryl Brooks, President of the Association of Elementary School Administrators, and Erin O’Toole-Trivas, President of the Secondary Schools Administrators Association.

Additionally, we have over 40 principals and various other leaders in the Baltimore County Public school system here with us today to show in human form, the level of support we have for Verletta White as the permanent superintendent of BCPS.

Further, in a survey of all principals, assistant principals, supervisors, coordinators, and PPWs, with a 76% reply rate, the leaders in our system support Ms. White at a 9 to 1 margin as the permanent superintendent.

Our Board of Education voted 8–4, to offer Ms. White the Superintendent position. Those 8 Board members represent 2/3 of the entire district. Despite this overwhelming level of support for Ms. White, this state superintendent chose to override the local community’s wishes in an unprecedented “big brother knows best” mentality. 3 minutes does not allow me to debunk the two sticking points cited for this denial.

This action occurred in part because of a social media campaign conducted by BCPS Board members who were unhappy with the vote. What a shame. Last week the Cecil County Board voted 3–2 to hire a new superintendent. The two dissenting members said they would support the majority choice because after all it is about the students. How refreshing!

I believe all citizens in the State of Maryland should be extremely concerned with this historic overreach by this state superintendent with the approval of this Board. No less than 4 Maryland districts are currently searching for and will hire superintendents. Will they pass muster? Will this be the beginning of the end of local autonomy for districts to choose the superintendent that best meets the criteria that they have determined as local residents? Disturbingly, there is now precedence for such action. Maryland is the only state that requires a state superintendent approval of a local LEA superintendent.

These three BCPS leadership organizations ask that Dr. Salmon reverse her decision to disallow Ms. White’s contract in the wake of the overwhelming support from the entire Baltimore County community, and just as importantly, her unparalleled experience and qualifications for the job. Let’s not let politics override the will of the people because after all it is about the students.

Thank you.

3 Minutes May 11, 2018

At each Baltimore County Board of Education meeting, CASE has three minutes to present information to the board in the interest of our organization. The following is a transcript from one of those meetings.

Chairman Gilliss, Vice Chair Stewart, Superintendent White, and members of the Board.

Two months ago, in my remarks to the Board I likened the state of BCPS to that of a boat trying to survive in a perfect storm. Two of the factors I mentioned to creating this situation were:

  • Collateral damage because of political gamesmanship in an election year
  • Clear ongoing divisiveness of the members on this Board

I suggested that the various stakeholders in Baltimore County were looking for leadership from this body. Since then, to your credit, after hours of public debate bordering on filibuster, the Board voted 8–4 to offer Ms. White the permanent superintendent position.

However due to continued political gamesmanship, and the divisiveness of several Board members who did not get their way in an overwhelming 2–1 vote, that contract was not approved in an unprecedented move by the State Superintendent. This was in partial part because of a social media campaign by Board members in a move that is extremely disappointing and smacks of partisan politics. As author John C. Danforth said: “The loudest voices we hear are those who advocate conflict and divisiveness.”

I believe we need to change that narrative. As the Executive Director of the Council of Administrative and Supervisory Employees which has gone on record as supporting Ms. White as the permanent superintendent at a 90% margin, I am asking this Board to appeal to the State Superintendent regarding her  decision. I would further request that you not ask for the decision to be reevaluated, but rather reversed.

I know that any appeal from this Board will require a motion and second thus opening the way for discussion before a vote is taken. I would ask that the members of the Board limit the discussion in consideration of the members of the community and hard working BCPS employees here tonight. First, there is really nothing new to discuss, and second, hours of bickering will not change the final vote, which will be 8–4.

This Board has 7 more months to serve the students, parents, staff and public. Isn’t it a shame that I feel comfortable predicting Board votes?

Casey Stengel said: “Getting’ good players is easy. Gettin’ ‘em to play together is the hard part.”

You are the leadership for Team BCPS.  You are all good players. We need you to play together.

Thank you,

Tom DeHart
CASE Executive Director



2018 Spring Legislative Reception

3 Minutes April 2018

At each Baltimore County Board of Education meeting, CASE has three minutes to present information to the board in the interest of our organization. The following is a transcript from one of those meetings.

Members of the Board,

In October 1991, a confluence of weather conditions combined to form a killer storm in the North Atlantic. Caught in the storm was the sword-fishing boat Andrea Gail. This experience where about everything that could go wrong, did, was characterized in the movie: The Perfect Storm.

I would suggest that the Baltimore County Public School system is in the midst of a confluence of factors which is creating our own “perfect storm”.

  • Recent criminal guilty pleas by high ranking system officials that has eroded both public and school board confidence and has seemingly created distrust of all, as a result of the actions of a few.
  • Collateral damage to our school system as a result of the political war of words between the governor and the county executive
  • Some local politicians taking potshots at the school system leadership to garner votes in this election year
  • No shortage of inaccurate information on posts and blogs
  • A lame duck School Board with clearly apparent divisiveness on many issues
  • An interim superintendent while the Board searches for a permanent superintendent

There are more, but you get the idea…

Tonight, you will discuss and vote on a technology contract. Did you get necessary information in a timely fashion? Do you ignore the open, transparent, and representative process that was used to choose the product and vendor? Do you just flat out distrust the BCPS staff? Only you know the answers to this.

Here is what I know: The online platform is how business is conducted in BCPS today. Grading and reporting, parent communication, and curriculum access all require this technology.

And just as important, this contract is a social justice issue. Students of all socio-economic levels deserve the same access to technology.

Leadership during a perfect storm is difficult at best. Indecisiveness and poor decisions can prove costly, and spoiler alert: The captain of the Andrea Gail made poor decisions that proved disastrous.

The students, parents, teachers, and administrators are looking for leadership from this Board. You are all smart people…figure it out, and please use your remaining tenure to work collaboratively for the entire Baltimore County community.

Thank you.

MASSP Aspiring Leaders Workshop

The Maryland Association of Secondary Public School Principals (MASSP) is offering Aspiring Leaders Workshop on April 28, 2018 from 8:30 AM to 3:00 PM at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab (APL) in Laurel, Maryland. Their announcement follows.

We sold out our February workshop.  So back by popular demand, we provide interested individuals a chance to experience this workshop attended by hundreds of Maryland aspiring leaders over the past two years.  This program has received rave reviews from virtually every attendee.  It is a repeat of the Pre-Assessment Center training held earlier this year.

Participants will explore how they might assess and develop their administrative skills as they prepare for a promotion.  Activities will be reflective, hands-on, thought provoking and introduce participants to the various steps used in many District-based Assessment Centers.

Activities for the day will include:

  • In-basket exercise
  • Data analysis exercise
  • Instructional observation and creation of feedback
  • Measured group activity
  • Writing sample (with feedback)
  • Analysis of your resume
  • Strategies/Tips for success
  • Personal interview (with peer feedback)

We will share wisdom from over 80 years of experience interviewing and rating candidates for promotion.

Our goal is to provide aspiring leaders experiences in this workshop typically NOT offered in your local school district leadership development programs.

Registration includes a continental breakfast provided in the morning beginning at 8:30 AM as well as lunch served on site provided by Columbia Chef Caterers.

More Info and Registration