Lynne Haeffele, M.S. ’84, Ph.D. ’09, once spilled her fruit salad all over Robert Jarvik, the inventor of the artificial heart. The star-struck mishap happened at the nation’s capital in 1985, where she was selected to present her submission for President Ronald Reagan’s Teacher in Space Contest.

Jarvik turned out to be one of the contest’s judges.

“I just got so freaked out when I met him. I said, ‘Are you kidding, that’s who you are?’”

At the time, Haeffele had just completed her masters in biology at Illinois State University. Fast-forward 35 years, and many consider her a giant in her own areas of P-21 education.

“Every day you think ‘There is a chance we can make a difference, here.’ And so I really like that.”

Lynne Haeffele

Haeffele’s been a biology teacher, policy analyst, scholar, teacher educator, state board administrator (including Illinois’ chief deputy superintendent), and consultant to a bevy of P-21 schools and organizations.

Her most recent role was as the director of the Center for the Study of Education Policy (CSEP), housed in the Department of Educational Administration and Foundations (EAF) at Illinois State. She spent about one-third of her 43-year career in education with the center, serving as a senior researcher before taking the reigns as lead administrator.

At CSEP, Haeffele was instrumental in developing projects to improve principal and teacher quality, and she regularly engaged EAF’s faculty to engage in consequential work.

“In EAF I was always on a learning curve because people like Drs. Paul Vogt, Dianne Renn, Paul Baker, and Joe Pacha were very astute K-12 policy thinkers, research analysts, and methodologists,” Haeffele said.

She also lauds both the mission and top-notch researchers that guided CSEP then and now, including Drs. Lisa Hood, Erika Hunt, and Alicia Haller.

“Every day you think ‘There is a chance we can make a difference, here.’ And so I really like that. And in CSEP we have that environment of support, in EAF, in the College of Education, and the University as a whole.”

A rare talent

“I have worked with a lot of people with Ph.D.s, and I consider Lynne Haeffele one of the most brilliant people I have ever worked with.”

Dianne Renn

Haeffele would earn her Ph.D. in educational administration, taking courses in the department after first joining the center in 2004. One of her top projects during that time had her examining high-performing, high-poverty schools across the nation.

“I love outlier studies,” she said. “You’re looking at these anomalies, and asking ‘What is going on here?’ and uncovering the mystery. We did find basically six things the well-performing schools were doing for their kids.”

Published in 2007, the trailblazing study is still referenced by educators today.

EAF Associate Chair Dr. Dianne Renn worked with Haeffele shoulder-to-shoulder on that work and other research, including Illinois’ Grow Your Own Grant, the No Child Left Behind Illinois Teacher Quality (NCLB) Grant, and a statewide initiative for Response to Intervention (RtI) and Multi-tiered Systems of Support (MTSS).  

“I have worked with a lot of people with Ph.D.s, and I consider Lynne Haeffele one of the most brilliant people I have ever worked with,” Renn said.

“She was also extremely elegant in her approach to any project. She knows how to marry big-picture concepts with pragmatic approaches; and that is an extremely rare talent in my experience.”

The thought is echoed by Haeffele’s colleagues in CSEP.

“She had a great way of being an outstanding thought partner,” Hood said.

“When we came up with some ideas, she had no problems pushing back on us and pushing our thinking. She was getting us to think about everything from all different perspectives, and the ways a project could go right and the ways it could go wrong. We trusted her, her opinion, her beliefs, and her values because we knew she had our backs and that she wanted what was best for the center.”

Beyond the tremendous impact Haeffele made at the state and national levels, she was enthusiastic about supporting local efforts through the University, as well. Since 2017 she engaged with the Chamber of Commerce’s workforce development arm—Community COMPACT—to improve the quality of the workforce pipeline in McLean County.

“The idea that the University can have an impact not just at the state or national levels, but also locally, as well, was fulfilling to me,” Haeffele said. “I just really like all three of those arenas.”

Success in Springfield

Haeffele’s focus throughout her career was listening to all sides to determine what’s best for learners.

“Lisa and I have had the pleasure in our career to work under some real policy giants. We worked under Norm Durflinger, Ross Hodel, and now Lynne.”

Erika Hunt

In 2010 Haeffele was recruited away from CSEP to lead an initiative for Illinois’ then-Lieutenant Governor Shelia Simon. She got the call after former Governor Pat Quinn arbitrarily demanded the number of districts in Illinois be reduced from 688 to 300. Haeffele and former CSEP Director Norm Durflinger (who had extensive consultation experience in district consolidation) eloquently contested the plan in a research piece that reached Simons’ office. They contended that academically and financially sound districts should not be touched. And for those districts that could stand to improve, changes should be considered on a case-by-case basis through an independent commission. 

“Simon is a pretty compelling person, and so I did agree to set up and lead the commission. It went pretty well. Legislators participated, all of the school organizations; including IASA, IPA, and the teacher’s unions; everyone was at the table,” she said.

“We traveled all around the state and held hearings. I had never gone so deeply into the policy world in terms of politics. The report was accepted and everyone said ‘Sit down, Pat Quinn, we are not doing it.’”

Listening, learning

The two-year project was actually Haeffele’s second foray into state work. She previously spent more than a decade in Springfield.

Following her success (fruit salad notwithstanding) at the Teacher in Space Contest, she was tabbed by ISBE to temporarily assist with a $10 million scientific literacy grant program, working alongside Illinois-based Nobel Prize-winning physicist Dr. Leon Lederman. After she helped to make the work a success, Lederman recommended her to run the grant permanently.

“That’s how I got that first job in Springfield in 1990. Eventually, I took on more responsibility and got promoted to ‘the fourth floor’ as they call it,” Haeffele said.

Haeffele was eventually promoted to chief deputy superintendent and led some of the most consequential curricular changes in the state. The effort was spurred by an incoming state superintendent, Joseph Spagnolo, who pushed for Illinois to finally adopt state standards in education, making it the 46th state in the nation to do so.

“The standards development turned out to be one of the most inclusive projects they have ever done,” she said. “We had dozens of committees, all kinds of public input, and lots of review and iterations went into that work. It really got me thinking about what it takes to put serious policy in place. And it is a lot of work behind the scenes.” Haeffele’s collaborative genius was on full display during that project, and it served her well in her work with CSEP.

“Lynne was a really good listener, even in the policy realm,” Hood said. “In any meetings that we had, she really paid close attention to each point everyone had made, digested it all, and tried to see things from their viewpoint before she talked. So I think that’s why people really valued what she had to say. Even if she did not agree with some people, they knew she had considered their viewpoints before she made a stance.”

Humble beginnings

Haeffele’s first love was not education. She was a relatively high-performing pre-med student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign before discovering she did not have the stomach for medicine.

“I knew it wasn’t for me when they had us doing operations on dogs from the pound using a cauterizing tool.”

Haeffele said she fainted multiple times that day, ending up in the women’s restroom with her feet elevated and wetted paper towels on her forehead.

After evaluating her options, she “fell into” biology teacher education, and the rest was history. Haeffele taught high school science classes at Allerton-Broadlands-Longview Consolidated High School for one semester, followed by 13 more years at Bloomington District 87, where she also served as department chair. She also developed and instructed biology methods courses for future teachers at Lincoln College and Illinois State University from 1980-1990. In fact, Lincoln recruited Haeffele before she finished earning her master’s degree.

“I loved teaching biology, but it was really challenging,” she said. “In the end, this work made me think about being a better teacher myself. The role with Illinois State happened somewhat serendipitously, too. The University also asked me to teach methods classes while working on my degree.”

The solid foundation Haeffele established influenced each step in her career, and it showed through her professionalism.

 “Lisa (Hood) and I have had the pleasure in our career to work under some real policy giants. We worked under Norm Durflinger, Ross Hodel, and now Lynne. So we really have some big shoes to fill because they are so knowledgeable and experienced at so many levels,” Hunt said.  

Another strength of Haeffele’s is identifying the things that need to happen behind the scenes to create harmony. Hunt said there were several processes the former director put into place to make the center run more efficiently, particularly when it came to buy-in from all constituents.

“Lynne was the true diplomat, and a lot of it comes from her experience at the state board. She was able to work in various environments in a calm albeit progressive way,” Hunt said.

“She also had this upmost patience; a way of helping us follow protocol to avoid missteps but still being able to move the work forward.”

In the past, one of those missteps involved taking a policy position the University could not support, catching the center by surprise fairly late into a project. To circumvent that issue, Haeffele instituted a procedure where, before signing onto anything, they shared their proposed moves with the University’s Director of Governmental Relations, Dr. Jonathan Lackland. 

“Jonathan followed University protocol and ensured that our policies were not in contrast to another position, but he was always able to get back to us really quickly” Hunt said.

“Not everyone is going to agree on all aspects of a position in all instances, and there are some positions we definitely will not back down on because they are really important to our center’s work, but this process ensures that we start everything with our eyes open. We’re going to keep doing that moving forward.”

The next chapter

Amidst the pandemic, Haeffele has the luxury of time to consider her next move. With her extended family in Wisconsin and her daughters’ families in Northern Texas, she’s looking forward to spending more time with them, and enjoying her official retirement.

One thing’s for sure; like Dr. Jarvik, her accomplishments are worthy of a spilled fruit salad, or two.