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Federal grant to develop school principals in central Illinois and other regions

Martin Bureau
AFP/Getty Images

The Regional Office of Education covering McLean, Logan, Dewitt, and Livingston counties has received a $4 million federal grant to make new school principals better at their jobs. The hope is it will find ways to address a looming shortage of school administrators.

The regional office is sharing the money in the "Learning While Leading" program with five other regions. Assistant Regional Superintendent Molly Allen said Tuesday the money will last five years and is for mostly high needs areas.

"It will look at about 40 positions. That can help with some of the succession planning that can be a challenge, especially in some of our hard to fill or more rural areas," said Allen.

Allen said principals face the same pressures teachers do from overwork, the presence of politics, a lack of support from higher ups, and expanded regulation.

"We do see some experiencing that kind of burnout and even the schedule and pace of demands can be really challenging. I think a lot of those same issues tend to apply," said Allen.

A survey by the National Association of Secondary School Principals released last week showed 4 out of 10 principals say they expect to leave the profession in the next three years. Allen said that sentiment comes at just the wrong time considering the already dire teacher shortage.

"As the supply of teachers lessens, that's the traditional pipeline for school leadership. As we have fewer teachers, then we have fewer people interested in becoming assistant principals, principals, and later superintendents," said Allen.

The grant targets novice and aspiring school leaders for support and professional development. The grant will pay for mentoring, use of an already well-developed curriculum for leadership training, and, Allen said, results of current research.

And then we've also developed micro-credentials which are an exciting opportunity given the frazzled and stressful lives of school leaders and teachers. Micro-credentials offer them some time to do more self-paced learning," said Allen.

All of that could become crucial. That national survey showed only a third of principals nationwide said they are satisfied in their work, a sharp decline from before the pandemic. And only half of principals said they plan to keep the job until they retire. And when you take out those over the age of 55 who are more likely to stay put, less than a quarter of principals said they'll stay in the job long term.

WGLT Senior Reporter Charlie Schlenker has spent more than three award-winning decades in radio. He lives in Normal with his family.