At the forefront of Illinois’ efforts to overhaul principal preparation with a focus on student learning is the University’s Center for the Study of Education Policy (CSEP), part of the Department of Educational Administration and Foundations (EAF).

Following meetings with over 1,000 affected constituents, CSEP research analysts Erika Hunt and Lisa Hood staffed three task forces that made key recommendations for the new principal preparation standards. Their recommendations led to school districts’ direct involvement in universities’ program development, yearlong administrative school internships, and candidates being paired with a mentor who possesses a track record of success as a principal.

“I would not want to be going up against any of our candidates for a principal job. They are very well prepared.”—Mary Kay Scharf

For its efforts, the center received the Newman Award for State Innovation and helped produce a video series on Illinois’ accomplishments. CSEP continues to be integral to the next stage of this work. The center is empowering partnering regional offices of education across Illinois to carry out professional development that enhances existing principals’ instructional leadership competencies and creates cultures of school improvement.

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Illinois State’s own principal preparation program is directed by Brad Hutchison, retired superintendent of Olympia CUSD 16 and a former principal and teacher who served on the state commission’s principal redesign subcommittee. Hutchison partners with districts in Central Illinois to determine their needs and recruit candidates who in turn can fill their area’s open positions. The program has graduated two cohorts, and 80 percent already have secured administrative positions.

“We recruit teacher leaders who are passionate about becoming principals,” Hutchison said.

Mary Kay Scharf, a retired principal who Hutchison recruited to serve in the program, says every piece of coursework is grounded in real-life examples and requires candidates to work directly with either their current or internship school to carry out projects focused on school improvement. That results in a readiness most new principals do not have.

“I would not want to be going up against any of our candidates for a principal job,” she said. “They are very well prepared.”