Putting Education Reform To The Test

How Better Supervision Might Mean Better Principals In Broward County

JP Taravela High Principal Shawn Cerra with the school's guidance director, Jody Gaver.

Sarah Gonzalez / StateImpact Florida

Shawn Cerra, principal of J.P. Taravela High School in Coral Springs, with the school's guidance director, Jody Gaver in 2012.

A national foundation thinks school principals have more to learn.

The Wallace Foundation believes that the people who supervise principals spend too much time making sure they follow rules and procedures — and not enough time mentoring them.

So Wallace is launching a $30 million dollar, five-year national experiment to test whether students benefit from principals who get more coaching.

Broward County is one of the districts training more “principal supervisors” — and giving them fewer job duties.

Desmond Blackburn leads Broward County schools’ performance and accountability efforts. He said the county started reorganizing principal supervision a few years ago. It’s why the district applied for the Wallace Foundation grant.

“The job was budget, parent, community concerns, social services, field trips, leases, reassignments — a great deal of operational points,” he said. “And teaching and learning became what we got involved in when everything else was accomplished.”

Blackburn said the district will spend the first year of the grant planning. Then, the district will add more principal supervisors and rewrite their responsibilities. By the end of the five years, Blackburn hopes the district will have a pipeline of people training for the position.

“The amount of training that people receive in order to become principal supervisors is right around zero,” he said.

Education foundations and researchers have spent plenty of time studying what makes a good teacher or principal, and the best ways to prepare them. But those are positions which interact directly with students.

So how much indirect influence can principal supervisors have on students?

Part of the Wallace Foundation project will conduct scientific studies of how effective principal supervision is on students. Blackburn said he and Broward County school officials think it’s significant. But if the research says otherwise, Blackburn and the district will accept the results.

“If the research shows that this isn’t a lever,” he said, “then we will produce that and be honest about it.”


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