This blog is the second in a series by a participant in the NYC Leadership Academy’s Foundations of Principal Supervision program.
Two years ago, the Chesterfield County School Board took on the work of developing a new strategic plan, Imagine Tomorrow, which revolved around our district’s core values of equity, ingenuity, integrity, and teamwork. Under the leadership of our new superintendent, Dr. Mervin Daugherty, we wanted to make sure that our vision was present in everything we do, that we were creating a better tomorrow for our students by igniting their passion through authentic and captivating learning experiences.
Given our strong belief in the school leader as critical for a school’s success, the district’s Division of School Leadership took this opportunity to simultaneously take on our own strategic planning process. The centerpiece of this process was a new Leadership Framework that would clearly define what a highly effective principal needs to know and be able to do. The framework would align explicitly with the district’s core values and with the Leadership division’s goals of developing leaders committed to lifelong learning, a culture of safety, personal responsibility, and supportive relationships.
Just as was done in the district-wide strategic planning process, our division prioritized collecting stakeholder input to inform our plan. We used meeting time with principals to gather their feedback, and we created opportunities for principals to serve on committees and focus groups. Working together, and with support from our professional learning on equity and coaching with the NYC Leadership Academy, our principals, assistant leaders, and central office staff created a leadership framework that focused on equity in decision making and could be used to guide principal evaluation and inform how we develop principal competencies, skills, and behaviors.
Critical to this work was the expectation that school leaders and their teams develop three-year School Innovation and Improvement Plans (SIIP). These are intended to serve as our “constitution” for developing the systems and processes needed to develop individual student learning plans and closing achievement gaps. Previously, schools had developed annual operating plans. However, we found that school leadership teams too often used those plans as compliance documents rather than as plans for supporting real growth over time. We wanted the SIIP plans to help schools make and sustain real improvements.
A successful SIIP plan includes a few essential pieces of information that tell the story of where a school is and where it needs to grow:
- Professional learning teachers need to grow, to use technology in their classrooms, and to create innovative lessons that will better engage students. Consider, for example, the move Principal Ben Snyder of Cosby High School made when he identified the need to increase the proportion of students of color in his school’s Advanced Placement courses. He enrolled his staff in a course on AP course planning, and they realized that their AP class admissions criteria needed to expand beyond course grades or teacher recommendations. He also brought in experts to discuss with staff how implicit bias can affect which students teachers recommend for AP classes.
- Space to chart coaching conversations between principals and their supervisors. Inspired by our learning with the NYC Leadership Academy, we collect this data to drive coaching conversations, data meetings, and learning walks for instructional improvement, and to offer evidence of the impact of coaching on school improvement and professional growth.
- Student achievement data: This data must go beyond standardized tests. The district provides schools with student growth indicators throughout the year, including NWEA’s MAP assessments, ELA and math benchmarks, and PALS literacy screening.
- Student demographic data
- Building age and conditions
- Other elements that make the school special
District level personnel policies
Finally, on the district level, we worked on personnel policies. We wanted to address the fact that our administrative teams do not reflect the demographics of our students: While our students are 50% White, 25% Black, and 16% Latinx, school division staff are 85% White and 9% Black. We believe that hiring more administrators of color could increase the likelihood of hiring more teachers of color and would help reduce the disproportionate number of students of color involved in disciplinary incidents. My team in the leadership office has worked with the Human Resources Department to change our recruiting map, focusing more on historically black colleges and universities in the south. In just one year, we succeeded in having at least one administrator of color in every secondary school. Over the next few years, we will work to diversify elementary school staff and increase the number of male role models for our students.
We have also begun rewarding effective principals who take positions in our schools most in need of improvement with additional pay. Our central office is also paying for principals’ professional learning to help them meet their personal and SIIP goals. And we are inviting principals who meet their goals to serve on central office committees and provide insight to county leaders on the state of schools.
Principal talent management is not a quick process. We have been methodical in our evidence gathering and in creating action plans that both principals and central office leaders agree on. It’s been important to be transparent, establish norms, and create timelines that keep projects moving toward goals while also taking a few steps back to get perspective. I’ve also come to understand that in principal talent management, the work is never done. We are constantly making tweaks, revisions, adjusting to new personnel, and adapting to new expectations from superintendents or local governments. As long as we keep students first, develop and promote leadership, and implement relevant professional learning, our school division will be successful in reaching our goals.
Learn how we redesigned the role and work of our principal supervisors in my previous blog.
National Leadership Facilitator
Verta joined the NYC Leadership Academy in 2018. Prior to that, she designed, managed, and delivered professional learning experiences and programs for sitting and aspiring school leaders at UnboundEd and New Leaders. Verta began her 20-year career in education as a teacher in Prince George’s County Public Schools, and then as a literacy specialist for the New York City Department of Education. She was principal of Bronx Arts for five years and served for several years as a leadership coach for principals and residents at New Leaders. Verta has a B.S. in communications and middle school education from James Madison University, and an M.A. from Teachers College, Columbia University.