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CMSD helps principals focus on instruction


To make principals more effective leaders, CMSD and a select group of other U.S. school districts are improving the support provided by the principals’ supervisors.

Cleveland and five other U.S. school systems are entering the second year of a four-year initiative funded by the Wallace Foundation of New York City. Also participating are Broward County, Fla., DeKalb County, Ga., Des Moines, Iowa, Long Beach, Calif., and Minneapolis.

Wallace awarded the district grants averaging about $3 million over four years, part of a broader $30 million effort to increase principals’ effectiveness. The objective is to transform principals from building managers to instructional leaders.

The foundation, which strives to improve the lives of disadvantaged children, has worked for more than a decade to strengthen instructional leadership in schools.

Cleveland received funding because the District had begun taking steps to transform the role of its network leaders, formerly known as academic superintendents. The network leaders each supervise a subset of CMSD’s 100 schools.

“They had already been thinking through and revising the position description to focus on instructional leadership,” said Nicholas Pelzer, a Wallace program officer who works with CMSD.

A survey of big urban districts conducted for the foundation showed that principals’ supervisors often had to oversee large numbers of schools and lacked appropriate experience and training.

As part of the grant agreement, CMSD recently added an eighth network leader, which will reduce the number of schools each leader oversees. The District also has expanded “network support teams” that represent finance, human resources and other departments.

CMSD will continue to improve its development and evaluation of network leaders. Plans also call for creating a “pipeline” of skilled leaders ready to move into the job if needed.

Network Leader Andrew Koonce said the work funded by the Wallace Foundation has helped him to provide his principals with more direct feedback and has “fostered new growth and enthusiasm” among them.

‪‬‬“Coaching principals to enhance their instructional leadership is one of the best parts of my job,” said Koonce, a former principal. “This is where I feel like I am making an impact, one that connects directly with students.‬”
CMSD’s principals have taken on much greater responsibility as the District’s central office shifts from top-down direction to more of a support function. The evolution is part of The Cleveland Plan, a citywide blueprint for education reform.

Based on the belief that individual schools know best what their students need, the District has given principals more authority over hiring, spending and program design. Chief Executive Officer Eric Gordon and the rest of senior leadership repeatedly emphasize that they have a duty to support principals.

Gordon underscored the importance of the role during an orientation for new principals on July 1. He told the group that principals are “the single-most important factor” in the District’s work.