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 NIU, RPS 205 Launch Principal Residency Program

 8/18/2020

The Northern Illinois University College of Education and Rockford Public Schools will launch this fall an innovative partnership to develop school leaders to serve the needs of Rockford-area schools. This cohort-based program is designed to improve academic and social-emotional learning outcomes from early childhood to post-secondary success in every school led by a partnership-prepared principal.

Laurie Elish-Piper, dean of the NIU College of Education, said the new partnership – called the NIU Principal Residency Program – is an innovative model that holds great promise for preparing future principals.

"We hear a great deal about the teacher shortage in Illinois, but we don't hear as much about the shortage of principals who are fully prepared to lead schools," Elish-Piper said. "This program addresses that challenge head-on by working collaboratively with the Rockford Public Schools and the Illinois Principals Association to prepare the next generation of principals in a job-embedded model with on-site coaching. By growing their own principals who are already committed to the district and who receive targeted coaching to make sure they are ready for the challenges and opportunities they will face as principals, RPS will be able to have a strong pipeline of school and district leaders."

Program details: The two-year, Master of Education/Illinois Principal Endorsement Program is in partnership with the Illinois Principals Association (IPA) and provides candidates with leadership coaching. The program is housed in NIU's Department of Leadership, Educational Psychology and Foundations. The 36-semester-hour M.S.Ed in Educational Administration includes a one-year internship that requires candidates to apply the knowledge and skills acquired through their coursework.

The program includes formal degree-program admission, a two-year residency with leadership coaching supported by mentors in Rockford-area public schools and IPA leadership coaches. The two-year residency placements are determined in large part by the needs of Rockford area public school districts. 

Graduates will be ready to become strong leaders of instruction and learning. As educational leaders, they will work with teachers to make sure they are implementing current research and best practices to produce the best outcomes for students. As leaders of learning, they ensure that all students are not only learning but also progressing along an upward trajectory.

"We value principal leadership as a key lever to student success," said Dr. Matt Vosberg, Deputy Superintendent for Rockford Public Schools. "We are building and model that is innovative and possibly a state and national model that utilizes a residency approach. Much like a medical student, principals learn best while doing the work."

Where the program started: NIU's M.S.Ed. in Educational Administration program became one of the first in the state to gain approval for its updated curriculum soon after new Illinois standards for school principals were introduced in 2010. NIU hired Jim and Becky Surber to coordinate the NIU Principal Preparation program while efforts were made to comply with data- and standards-based requirements.

One decade and several successful cohorts later – 1 of every 9 principals in Illinois is an NIU graduate – the Surbers are excited to deliver the M.S.Ed and Illinois Principal Endorsement to candidates in the RPS 205 partnership.

RPS 205 and its students are the focus: Students will earn degrees anchored in rigor and relevance and designed to meet and exceed the state-mandated expectations of accountability that are placed on principals. Their coursework also has been customized to reflect the Rockford community's local needs. "The ultimate goal of this effort is to prepare aspiring leaders to positively impact the academic and social-emotional outcomes of all students they serve," the Surbers said.

Terry Borg, director of the NIU College of Education's Office of External and Global Programs, said that RPS students and families "will benefit from this program's focus on hands-on learning, supported by local mentors, highly qualified and experienced job coaches and internship supervisors."

"This residency-focused program operates much like a co-op apprenticeship, where classroom learning is tested daily on-the-job, with a safety net of experienced professionals who ensure success," Borg said.

"Having worked on this customized school principal development initiative for over a year, with partners RPS 205 and the Illinois Principals Association," Borg added, "I can say that Rockford students, families and teachers will be the recipients of the most-experienced, job-ready school leaders to ever be employed by District 205."

Candidate selection: The first cohort of program candidates begins this fall. Candidates are selected for application to the program by participating Rockford-area administrators from a pool of full-time deans and others holding school leadership positions. Applicants are assessed for formal NIU program admission in their first semester of participation in program coursework.

Expectations & next steps: Candidates who complete the program are not guaranteed leadership positions in participating districts, but it is expected that their successful completion of the program will indicate that they are highly qualified for such positions and would be encouraged to apply for them. Candidates who are hired as principals in Rockford-area schools may receive an additional year of district-based coaching in collaboration with the Illinois Principals Association.

Carolyn Pluim, chair of the Department of Leadership, Educational Psychology and Foundations, shares the enthusiasm of her colleagues for the NIU Principal Residency Program.

"I applaud the hard work and commitment of faculty, university administrators, Rockford leaders and representatives from the Illinois Principal Association," Pluim said. "There was a great collaborative spirit and common vision shared among all team members, and it was incredibly rewarding to participate in this forward-thinking partnership."