Steve Tozer on the Importance of Principal Supervisors

Guest author Steve Tozer is Professor and University Scholar in the Department of Educational Policy Studies and Director of the Center for Urban Education Leadership at the University of Illinois-Chicago.  He is founding Coordinator of the UIC Ed.D. Program in Urban Education and has written extensively on the social contexts of schools.  In 2015-16, Steve and his team worked with 15 Network Chiefs and Deputies, who are responsible for managing more than 450 public schools in Chicago. Network public schools serve more than 280,000 students citywide.


A long­standing challenge in all major urban districts in the U.S., including here in Chicago, is establishing an effective management structure between the Superintendent and principals. In all large urban districts, principal supervisors – Network Chiefs, in Chicago – play a critical role in supporting, developing, evaluating and retaining their principal leaders.

The “official” role of principal supervisors has been inconsistent nationwide. Although there are promising national efforts led, in large part, by the Wallace Foundation and the Council of Great Cities Schools, professional development for principal supervisors is an often overlooked priority. Indeed, the first national set of model standards for principal supervisors was only released by the Council of Chief State School Officers in December 2015.

Since 2002, I have been engaged in various efforts to rethink development for principals, and from the beginning, the quality of principal supervisors has been a necessary but underdeveloped part of that conversation.

In 2015, The Boeing Company stepped up to accelerate that work dramatically. Boeing supported a unique partnership between UIC and CPS to bring a new series of professional development supports to Chiefs and their deputies.

We launched a sustainable Community of Practice, combining coursework, guest presentations from leaders like Barbara Eason-Watkins and Shelby Cosner, and opportunities for Chiefs to focus on key problems of practice identified by Chiefs themselves.  Chiefs and deputies earned graduate-level credit for their participation in the course. Heading into the 2016-17 School Year, we will deepen our work together to focus more intensively on Cycles of Inquiry and additional structures to allow the Chiefs to work together to support principal development across CPS.  Year one concluded with a three-day Chief retreat in August. Year two will also feature guest sessions with sector leaders as well as ongoing classes with former Montgomery County (Maryland) Superintendent Jerry Weast.

As critical leaders of leaders, Chiefs occupy a special place in Chicago. Network Chief Ernesto Matias says it well: “The ONS (Office of Network Supports)/UIC Network Chief supports enable all Chiefs to reflect upon our impact on our principals and schools. We ask critical questions about how to improve our leadership skills with the purpose of increasing our principals’ ability to maximize their skills – with a laser-like focus on improving student learning in all schools.”


Network Chiefs and staff from Office of Network Supports at 3-day August retreat focus on problems of principal supervision and development at UIC


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