Passage of Public Act 98-413 by the Illinois General Assembly updated the Illinois School Code and authorized the State Superintendent of Education, in consultation with the State Educator Preparation and Licensure Board, to develop standards for the preparation of school superintendents.
These changes have been fully implemented with the goal of ensuring the “people getting the new superintendent endorsement will have the skillset they need to be successful,” said Benjamin Creed, an assistant professor in the Department of Leadership, Educational Psychology and Foundations.
Guidelines set by the ISBE now require three semesters of internships conducted at one or more public school districts “to enable the candidate to be exposed to and to participate in a variety of educational leadership situations” with “diverse economic and cultural conditions.”
Internships must include engagement in leadership activities at all levels from preschool through 12th grade; active participation in the hiring, supervision and evaluation of staff; and active collaboration in management, operations and decision-making.
Coursework must cover state and federal laws regarding schools, use of technology for effective teaching and learning, research-based interventions for students at risk of academic failure, bullying and the legal process for evaluating licensed staff.
All colleges and universities involved in superintendent preparation will have to redesign their program to align with the new standards.
“No new cohort can be under the old standards,” Creed said. “NIU was the first to present our new curriculum. We were the first to be accepted. We are the first to have a degree in place.”
Twenty-three students are enrolled the cohort Creed leads at NIU-Naperville. A second cohort will begin next fall.
“I’m surprised by the breadth of the people in the program,” Creed said. “We have K-12 principals, an English Language Learners coordinator, an early education coordinator, a school business manager, a director of research and accountability, an associate superintendent and an interim superintendent.”
All share a common trait.
“They see what they can do for a school, a program or a group of students, and they want to take that next step,” he said.
“A lot of it is that they’ve had a really good mentor. They might have seen how a good superintendent can positively impact a district and want to do the same. Or they see what’s going on and think they can do a better job,” he added. “For some, if they’ve had success in their current role, they ask the question: ‘What’s next?’ ”
NIU’s program spans two full years, including two courses each semester for six semesters (fall, spring and summer). Lessons include organizational theory, leadership theory, school finance and facilities management and current trends in educational research.
During the internship semesters, students will work with their cooperating superintendents on projects such as school finance and budgeting, multi-tiered systems of academic support and data analysis.
In one of their classes on the superintendency, students must attend and observe school board meetings in two other districts and, Creed said, “think about how different relationships affect policy.”
“The structure of our program is good,” Creed said. “We focus on relevancy – not just theory but how it applies to their work.”
NIU has a tradition of being the top program in the area, he said, a reputation that attracts high-quality students.
Among the NIU faculty is Brad Hawk, a clinical assistant professor of Educational Administration with a long career as an executive in P-12 public schools.
Hawk is currently serving as interim superintendent of DeKalb Community Unit School District 428, a position that keeps him current in school policy and able to teach his NIU students from that real-world position.
“We’ve got a good diversity of staff, and we have strong and rigorous courses that are thoughtfully designed to help students learn as they pass the various requirements,” Creed said.
“We also have a good diversity of students and district contexts – urban, rural, growing, shrinking,” he added. “We focus on learning from each other and pulling from the resources the students bring.”
Feedback so far has been positive.
“The students enjoy the fact that there’s room to learn from each other,” he said, “and, by seeing each other over the next two years, they’re developing strong networks.”