SJR Column: Educational Leadership Program, December 2017
What makes successful K-12 schools tick? A recent study cited by Education Pioneers, a nationwide school improvement project funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, concluded school leadership is a critical factor. Along with excellent teachers, outstanding principals and superintendents have significant impact on how well students learn in school.
That impact is the reason that, in addition to preparing highly-qualified K-12 teachers, UIS offers graduate programs in Educational Leadership that prepare principals, superintendents and other school personnel for leadership roles in schools throughout Central Illinois and beyond.
Scott Day, a faculty member at UIS for 20 years (and winner of the 2017 Faculty Excellence Award), leads the Educational Leadership program. “What attracts students to our program,” says Scott, “is top-notch faculty with extensive experience working as principals and superintendents.”
“Our graduates always say how well prepared they feel for the job based on the program’s course projects and the extensive internship requirement,” he continues.
“The professional preparation is about as realistic as you can get – and that is the key to our (and our graduates’) success.”
Hanfu Mi, Dean of the College of Education and Human Services, agrees: “Faculty who teach in the Educational Leadership program have not only had careers as successful principals and superintendents, they also remain connected to people and issues of importance in K-12 in Illinois – engaging in research, service and other professional activities that keep them informed of exactly what is going on in the schools across the state.”
“Dr. Day is a good example of that connectivity,” Dean Mi continues. “He currently serves on the Executive Board of the Illinois Principals Association and spends significant time each semester in the schools, mentoring current graduate students (most of whom are also fulltime teachers) and advising alums who continue to stay connected to the faculty long after they complete the program.”
Jennifer Gill, Superintendent of Springfield Public School District #186, is one of those alums. Jennifer was born and raised in Springfield, where she graduated from Springfield High School and later taught at Wanless Elementary School, one of 23 elementary schools in the district. “I chose the University of Illinois at Springfield for my Masters Degree in Educational Administration due to strong recommendations from educators in my community,” says Jennifer.
“I quickly realized the opportunity to learn from professors who were practitioners as well as those who were grounded in educational research was the blend of support for which I was looking.”
Dr. Gill later returned to UIS for her Superintendent’s licensure and the Chief School Business Endorsement, working with a cohort of fellow educators with whom she maintains valuable professional relationships today.
Superintendent Gill is not the only UIS Educational Leadership alum in District #186. In fact, more than 60% of the principals employed in the Springfield Public Schools today are proud graduates of the program. Another alum is Lyn Williams, who became principal of Southeast High School this fall after serving 11 years in other roles in the district, most recently as Assistant Principal at Lanphier High School.
“Finding a graduate program that provided me with research-based instruction and real-life relevance was my priority when choosing both a principalship program and a superintendency program,” says Lyn.
“The expertise of my instructors at UIS allows for class time to be spent problem-solving around real-world case studies and the discussion is filled with dynamic analysis and insight that is second to none.”
“Proximity to where I live was also important,” he continues, “as I needed a program that would allow me to balance work, family, and education.” That proximity has remained important even after program completion, with Mr. Williams expressing appreciation for ongoing support and guidance provided by UIS Educational Leadership faculty via phone, email, office and even school visits.
K-12 schools in Illinois today face a variety of challenges including uncertain funding, poverty and other student risk factors, teacher training and retention, changing student attitudes and behaviors, state and federal mandates, school safety and security, and other issues that affect student success. Now more than ever, schools need skilled leaders who can create the conditions that enable teachers to help their students learn and achieve and that prepare them for success in college and in the workforce. Schools also need leaders who understand their school is embedded in the community and who can successfully engage families and communities to work together to meet the needs of all students.
Developing and supporting those educational leaders for the benefit of current and future generations is what the UIS Educational Leadership program is all about.
Susan J. Koch, Chancellor of University of Illinois at Springfield.