Too often, principal supervisors — those working in central offices to manage principals across a district — are limited to managing crises and ensuring compliance. They juggle a lot of principals and a lot of policies, which leaves little time or energy for developing strong school leaders through proper coaching and support.

The Wallace Foundation hopes to change that by providing grants to school districts to drastically reduce the case loads of principal supervisors in order to help them do their jobs more effectively. Wallace is also providing training to principal supervisors in how to coach — as opposed to how to manage — principals. The foundation’s new report, The Power of Principal Supervisors: How Two Districts Are Remaking an Old Role, showcases these efforts in Washington, D.C., and Tulsa, Okla.

This is a significant shift in how educators typically think about how school districts work, but it grows out of a decades-long commitment to understanding the role of principals as the primary lever of school improvement.

In the course of its work, the Wallace Foundation has found that principals get too little support. One reason for this is that principal supervisors are often working with 20 or more principals at a time — which means that they can rarely be in any one school for very long — and their focus is often limited to crisis management.

It is far too early to say whether this initiative will succeed in breaking down the isolation of individual schools, improving instruction, and raising student achievement. But it is certainly worth keeping an eye on.

Disclosure: Ed Trust receives funding from The Wallace Foundation.