In 2016, Relay launched a new opportunity in concert with its National Principals Academy fellowship, designed specifically for principal supervisors. The National Principal Supervisors Academy track is unique among professional development programs for administrators in that it focuses exclusively on preparation for instructional leadership.
The curriculum prioritizes three main levers of leadership: data-driven instruction, student culture, and observation and feedback, applied with Relay’s signature focus on practice. Principal supervisors spend 50% of their time at the yearlong fellowship—which consists of a two-week summer intensive and four weekend-long intersessions—learning alongside principals, and 50% of their time learning together with other system leaders.
Having drawn its approach from some of the nation’s highest performing school systems, Relay knows that school leaders, like teachers, are most effective when they have aligned administrators supporting them. The principal supervisors track was specifically designed to prepare supervisors to better support their principals, addressing common pain points surfaced in some 50 interviews conducted by Dr. Ben Klompus, Managing Director of Principal Supervisor programs at Relay.
“We kept hearing the same challenges coming up over and over again with principals,” said Klompus. “Principals said things like, ‘I know that we need to spend more time looking closely at student work, but I'm not sure how best to ensure that all of our teams know how to use this time really well,' or, 'My teachers crave more frequent and bite-sized feedback, but our system’s evaluation system emphasizes evaluation over development.'”
Drawing on these observations and data collected from a wide array of principals and supervisors, Klompus and his team identified the highest-leverage areas of focus.
The principal supervisors track adds a critical level of depth and potential for impact to the National Principals Academy, which was launched in 2013 in response to the demand for high-quality programs to help principals advance their skills.
For the first several years of the National Principals Academy, Relay welcomed principal supervisors to attend a portion of the two-week summer sessions, providing them the opportunity to internalize the goals of the program to better support their participating principals. As the National Principals Academy increased in popularity, growing from 120 school leaders in 2013-14 to 400 in 2016-17, Relay recognized the need and opportunity to expand the programming offered to principal supervisors. In 2016-17, Relay created a separate, dedicated strand for principal supervisors, with a curriculum designed to meet their unique needs.
As Dr. Klompus and his team continue to build the principal supervisors track, early evidence suggests that teams of aligned principals and principal supervisors will see greater improvement in student outcomes, including achievement results and measures of positive school culture. In the coming year, Relay has even given priority to vertically aligned teams of principals and principal supervisors in the Fellowship application process. While it’s premature to start seeing comprehensive gains in student outcomes, initial data and qualitative feedback look promising.
“The majority of the time I spend with principals is spent in classrooms, reviewing action steps for teachers, and identifying clear action steps for school leaders. This is the first year I have provided leaders with clear action steps to guide our work,” said Kayla Robinson, Instructional Leadership Director at Tulsa Public Schools.
“All data and indicators of school culture are improved upon last year,” added Angie Arismendi, Senior Vice President of Schools for IDEA Public Schools. “We have improved student achievement and both student and staff culture, as measured by student persistence and staff retention. This is in large part due to the training on culture and the observation feedback sessions.”
As Relay continues to collect preliminary data on the impact of the principal supervisors program, it is working to identify school systems making extraordinary gains. By analyzing how these systems are implementing the levers of leadership, Relay hopes to continue to codify best practices and develop case studies to advance the field of leadership preparation. Program leaders are also working to provide additional support for program implementation beyond the summer intensive and weekend intersessions, establishing regional hubs of ongoing professional development for principals and principal supervisors.
In the coming years, Relay plans to expand the National Principals Academy and the principal supervisors track, piloting a one-week program for leadership teams and increasing the number of participating principals and principal supervisors each year.
“If we are going to create impact at scale to effect powerful, systemic change, it is going to take a relay of effective leaders, all working toward the same vision for kids,” says Klompus. “This is the work that we are committed to doing.”