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Wallace Video Series Shows How Illinois Boldly Revamped Requirements for Preparation of Principals

Wallace Video Series Shows How Illinois Boldly Revamped
October 18, 2016

       The Wallace Foundation



The Wallace Foundation
Jessica Schwartz

 Wallace Video Series Shows How Illinois Boldly Revamped  Requirements for Preparation of Principals

New York City (October 18, 2016) – The Wallace Foundation today released a four-part video series exploring Illinois’ bold actions to revamp the way school principals are prepared. The state required all of its approved programs to reapply for accreditation under higher standards, based on research about effective principal preparation.

In the past, educators in Illinois who wanted to become principals merely had to get a general administrative license that was used for a wide variety of positions in education. Large numbers of teachers and other school officials were enrolled in these programs, but mostly to earn credentials and get raises, not to become principals, according to state policymakers interviewed in the videos. At the same time, districts complained that they couldn’t find qualified candidates prepared to lead teaching and learning in their schools.

In 2010, Illinois passed the tougher law, and the results were dramatic. Instead of 31 programs with about 7,600 students enrolled, Illinois now has 26 programs with fewer than 700 candidates – but these are people who actually want to lead schools and were willing to undergo much more rigorous training to do so.

The four-part video series, A Bold Move to Better Prepare Principals: The Illinois Story, begins with the tale of how the state of Illinois and its partners, including universities, districts and teachers’ unions, accomplished this change. Two of the videos profile exemplary preparation programs at the University of Illinois at Chicago and New Leaders Chicago, which helped to inspire the higher standards and whose graduates effectively lead Chicago public schools. The final video features Chicago principals who describe how their training programs prepared them for the real demands of their jobs.

The Wallace-commissioned videos were produced and directed by award-winning filmmaker Tod Lending, in consultation with Erika Hunt and Alicia Haller, who are project directors at the Center for the Study of Education Policy at Illinois State University. 

“This was a very collaborative effort that involved all of the major stakeholders in education,” said Hunt, who played a leading role in the effort. “We also created a teacher-leadership credential to recognize teachers’ desire for roles other than the principalship and to help universities adjust to the drop in enrollment that followed the changes.”

“Principals are a key factor in whether students achieve and schools improve, but in too many states, policies on how to prepare principals typically haven’t kept pace with the demanding realities of the job,” said Jody Spiro, director of education leadership at The Wallace Foundation, which funded the early development of the Illinois effort. “Illinois took bold, sometimes difficult, action to raise the quality and selectivity of its preparation programs, including ensuring that aspiring principal candidates spend much more time getting hands-on experience in schools. We hope Illinois’ experience is of interest to other states and university preparation programs.”  

The new videos are part of a major new Wallace effort, the University Principal Preparation Initiative, to improve university preparation programs. Last week, the foundation announced seven universities that will participate in a four-year, $47-million initiative to develop models for improving university principal preparation programs and to examine ways that state policy could be strengthened to encourage higher-quality training statewide.

The seven universities are Albany State University (Georgia), Florida Atlantic University, North Carolina State University, San Diego State University (California), the University of Connecticut, Virginia State University and Western Kentucky University.

A Bold Move to Better Prepare Principals: The Illinois Story videos include:

Part 1: The State (9:45 min.) Erika Hunt of the Center for the Study of Education Policy at Illinois State University narrates the story of how Illinois had too many people with a license to be a principal—but too few truly qualified for the job. Other interviews include such key education leaders as Illinois Secretary of Education Beth Purvis and Executive Director of the Illinois Education Association Audrey Soglin. Together they describe the statewide, collaborative effort that led the Illinois General Assembly to become the first state to pass a bold bill that required universities and nonprofits to revamp their principal preparation programs, according to higher standards and grounded in real-life experiences.  

Part 2: New Leaders Chicago (7:30 min.) This nonprofit program has successfully trained 200 Chicago principals. The video shows a coaching session between Falilat Shokunbi, a resident principal at John Marshall High School, and her New Leaders coach, Lakita McKinney, as they discuss giving feedback to a teacher. Says Shokunbi of the young people at her school: “Students are able to do anything that we put in front of them, but if we don’t challenge them, they’re never going to get the opportunity to rise to the occasion. It’s that simple.”

Part 3: University of Illinois at Chicago (9:20 min.) This inside look at an innovative university program shows how school leaders have been trained for more than a decade. UIC leader Steve Tozer describes the program’s philosophy and results. The video follows aspiring principal Sherly Chavarria at Jamieson Elementary School, where she is immersed in a residency that emphasizes learning by doing. The video shows her weekly coaching with UIC coach Cynthia Barron. “A principal is not just a technocrat who decides what curriculum should be,” says Chavarria. “The principal is the heart of a building.”

Part 4: The District (9 min.) Chicago Public Schools’ commitment to preparing principals has paid off for the district, top leaders say, noting that graduation rates are increasing across the city. In the video, novice Chicago principals reflect on how their training by New Leaders and UIC prepared them for the challenges they face as school leaders. District leaders explain why the district has placed a big bet on principals. “The needle is moving in the right direction,” says Janice Jackson, the district’s chief education officer. “We continue to make the investment because we’ve seen the return on the investment.”


The Wallace Foundation seeks to improve education and enrichment for disadvantaged children and foster the vitality of arts for everyone. The foundation has an unusual approach: funding efforts to test innovative ideas for solving important public problems, conducting research to find out what works and what doesn’t and to fill key knowledge gaps – and then communicating the results to help others. Wallace, which works nationally, has five major initiatives under way:

  • School leadership: Strengthening education leadership to improve student achievement.

  • Afterschool: Helping selected cities make good afterschool programs available to many more children.

  • Building audiences for the arts: Enabling arts organizations to bring the arts to a broader and more diverse group of people.

  • Arts education: Expanding arts learning opportunities for children and teens.

  • Summer and expanded learning: Better understanding the impact of high-quality summer learning programs on disadvantaged children, and enriching and expanding the school day in ways that benefit students.

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