A Closer Look at That Giant K-12 Grant Wallace Just Made

We've written a lot about the growing level of support for projects and initiatives that are focused on teacher mentoring and support. Funders including the Harold K.L. Castle Foundation in Hawaii and the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation are investing in programs designed to boost teacher quality.

This focus on improving the quality and performance of teachers is appropriate. A rich body of research cites effective teachers as the single most important factor in student achievement. Strong instructional leadership runs second, according to that same body of research. This means principals must be able to act as instructional leaders, observing teachers in the classroom, providing feedback on pedagogy, and modeling effective instruction. But to do that, principals need central office support so they can spend more time on instructional leadership and less time on budgets, buildings, and bureaucracy.

Enter the Wallace Foundation, which just announced a $30 million, five-year grant to help 14 public school systems improve the quality of their central offices so that they can better support the work of principals and raise the overall quality of schools. The grant will place special emphasis on the role of principal supervisors, a position the Wallace Foundation believes has been overlooked.

In many urban districts, principal supervisors are in charge of too many principals and too focused on bureaucratic compliance. The Wallace Foundation hopes this initiative will cause districts to rethink the role of central offices, moving principal supervisors away from compliance roles and more toward support, acting as a combination of coach, networker, and support system, running interference for principals so that they spend their time providing instructional leadership.

To achieve this, Wallace will fund a core group of six school districts to train principal supervisors and reduce the number of principals these people manage. The core districts are in Long Beach, CA; Des Moines, IA; Broward County, FL; Minneapolis, MN; Cleveland, OH; and DeKalb County, GA. Each district will receive about $3 million over the life of the grant.

Consistent with its interest in quality research projects, Wallace also will fund an evaluation to determine whether and to what extent improving the supervisor's role leads to better principals. In addition, districts in Washington, D.C., and Tulsa, OK, will receive smaller grants for new support positions to ease principal supervisor workloads and cultivate new talent.

This interest in instructional leadership and central office operations is not new for Wallace, which in 2011 awarded $75 million to six school districts under its Principal Pipeline Initiative to help them develop strong instructional leaders. Wallace has connected the new principal supervisor grant to this prior grant by providing additional support to the "pipeline" districts: Charlotte-Mecklenburg, NC; Denver, CO; Gwinnett County, GA; Hillsborough County, FL; New York City; and Prince George's County, MD.