Most parents would love to hear that their daughter wanted to become a teacher.
Not Barb Valle’s, however, who were less than thrilled when she dropped her original major in International Business.
“I’m originally from Princeton, Ill. I had a wonderful, wonderful childhood growing up, and I think that’s probably why I’m an educator – because of the teachers I knew there. By the end of my freshman year at NIU, I just had to follow my heart and passion, and I knew it was in education,” says Valle, who graduated in 1986.
“My parents were very much opposed to it. They didn’t think this was the field to go into,” she adds. “I have siblings who are 10, 11 and 12 years older than I am, and two of them were impacted by the downsizing in education and couldn’t get jobs right out of college. But I’ve definitely never regretted it.”
Valle’s career is still going strong 35 years later.
Currently the principal of Jacobs High School in Algonquin, part of Community Unit School District 300, she’s taught overseas and served as a teacher and administrator throughout the suburbs and in her central Illinois hometown.
Princeton is where it all began.
She went home with bachelor’s degree in hand, began teaching part-time, married a man from Germany and then moved to Germany for a year, during which she taught English as a Second Language to business professionals and substituted in military schools.
“I had some experiences with administrators that made me think, ‘I can do that,’ and I always wanted to have a bigger impact,” Valle says. “People said, ‘Well, won’t you miss teaching?’ And, from Day One, when I started my master’s program, I said, ‘I’m still going to be teaching. I’m just going to be teaching a larger audience.’ We’re really impacting the entire student body instead of the just the 150 kids assigned to us.”
Her favorite professor in the NIU College of Education was Carol J. Fuhler, who taught Valle that education is about “helping people grow, and it is to this day my ‘why.’ ”
“People have a line, and it’s their ‘progression line.’ Our goal as educators is to help them move along their line to where they’re going to go and where they’re going to grow, and that’s sort of been my ‘why’ in education ever since,” Valle says. “It’s been that piece of, ‘How can I help my stakeholders grow, whether as teachers, or as administrators, or parents even?’ That was probably the most influential class I had.”
With her master’s degree, she started her administrative career as dean at Batavia High School.
Then, in 2006, her hometown beckoned.
Valle was hired as principal of her alma mater, Princeton High School: “My mom had passed away. My dad was ill. I was divorced with two kids. It was perfect,” she says.
“I had a wonderful experience – six years as principal, three years as assistant superintendent for both the elementary and the secondary districts. My kids ended up graduating from the same high school my dad and I and all my siblings had graduated from. I really got to go back home,” she adds.
“However, my kids had graduated, my dad had passed away, my grandparents had passed away, and I wanted a bigger challenge, so I came back up to the suburban area. This is my fifth year at Jacobs.”
Jacobs offered more than just a return to Chicagoland.
During her time in the central office in Princeton, Valle had missed the daily interaction with students and teachers.
“One of my mentors when I started at Palatine – Nancy Robb – told me, ‘Never lose sight of what gives you your passion, what excites you to come to work every day,” she says.
“Now it’s a little harder because I don’t get to see them every day, but I know that they’re still at the heart of what we’re doing despite the pandemic,” she adds. “I’m having a lot of email contact with them, and some Zoom meetings with students, so that’s helpful, because that’s really why we’re in this business. We’re a family. The kids are a family.”
Meanwhile, Valle remains connected to NIU.
As state director for the Kishwaukee Region of the Illinois Principals Association (IPA), she visits cohorts in the M.S.Ed. in Educational Administration program to share with them the benefits of joining the organization along with her insight and wisdom.
Graduates students also have been invited to participate in IPA-hosted mock interviews, where they gain experience, constructive criticism and valuable guidance on finding “the right job,” as well as opportunities to socialize and network with current principals.
“I’ve seen some of the work NIU has been doing. What is happening in these cohorts is important. It’s on the cutting edge of what teachers need to know if they’re going to become administrators,” she says.
“NIU has continued to progress in its programs, just as education has progressed. The fact that NIU includes acting professionals in that is so important,” she adds. “In some of the other cohorts that I’ve visited, the professionals have been out for a while and don’t really have a touch with what’s going on currently in schools. Having current administrators working with these programs and these cohorts is just essential.”
With a few years left before she retires, Valle remains energized to continue toward her goals for Jacobs.
“We aren’t quite where I want to be yet. My motto when I came in was that we’re going to go from good to great. We have a lot of great things happening at Jacobs, but I want that great consistency across the board, where we are all moving forward,” she says.
She knows that will happen.
“We have a wonderful population that includes students as part of the culture, and I mean includes them and embraces them. We have fantastic teachers. Our kids and families are great,” she says.
“We’re creating traditions and kind of a legacy piece that I’ve gotten to watch develop over the last five years, and we’re making the community more a part of what’s happening inside our four walls,” she says. “I want to continue to build on all of that, and build on our school pride.”