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How to Become a School Principal in Illinois

Over a decade ago, Illinois undertook a unique, intensive redesign of its principal preparation standards and licensure requirements. Based on a growing body of educational research, the state recognized the value of effective school leadership — one of the most telling measures of successful schools. The Illinois Principals Association notes that principals and leadership teams impact student and adult learning outcomes by nurturing a positive culture, attracting and retaining good teachers and staff, facilitating continuous school improvement and maintaining a growth mindset.

Revamping the Expectations

As a result of increased focus on leadership, the state legislature decided to overhaul its training requirements for principals, as well as other administrative roles. A report by the Illinois Research Council (IRC) explains the rationale for these changes in more detail. According to the report, the state believed that its administrative training was too generalized for any specific administrative position. Even after graduating, candidates were competent in many areas but not “adequately” prepared for any area in particular.

In response, Illinois took on its mission of change with a “goal of improving student outcomes and closing achievement gaps” by “updating standards for principal preparation programs with a focus on instructional leadership,” as explained in a 2019 report from the public policy think tank New America. The focus on instruction was notable given how much previous administrative training focused on out-of-classroom responsibilities such as school law, finances and educational theory.

The call for better leadership skills is backed by data. The research council points to a 2001 study that argues for the importance of instructional expertise: “Have comprehensive understanding of school and classroom practices that contribute to student achievement; know how to work with teachers and others to fashion and implement continuous student improvement; and now how to provide the necessary support for staff to carry out sound school, curriculum and instructional practices.” Aligning these standards from the bottom up helps to create the foundation for cohesive instruction and learning environments and improve student outcomes.

New Expectations for Success

When Illinois cemented its reforms, the state included several new main requirements, as outlined by the IRC:

  • Targeted principal endorsement instead of a general administrative certificate
  • Partnerships with school districts in preparation of program design and delivery
  • Selective admissions criteria
  • P-12 licensure (adding Pre-Kindergarten to the leadership training)
  • Curricula that address school improvement and the learning needs of all students, including students with disabilities, ELLs, gifted students and students in early childhood education (ECE) programs
  • Performance-based internship
  • Collaborative support for candidates from both faculty and mentor principals

Emphasis on students with disabilities, ELLs, gifted students and students in early childhood education is also reflected in the addition of mandatory P-K training. This shift, as well as the tighter alignment with school districts through direct partnerships, are two of the most significant aspects of Illinois’ redesign.

The IRC found that school district partnerships re-focused principal training “from a “candidate as consumer’ model to one of ‘district as consumer’ and, later, ‘district as co-provider.'” Illinois also now offers the Illinois Educator Preparation Program in which candidates work closely with smaller educational institutions to ensure their needs are met.

How an EdS Degree Prepares You

The online Education Specialist (EdS) in Educational Administration program with a Specialization in Principal Preparation program from Southern Illinois University Edwardsville (SIUE) helps students meet all state requirements for the principal endorsement. The curriculum includes both theory and research as well as field experience in multiple areas through courses like Instructional Leadership and Supervision: Theory and Research as well as Data Driven School Improvement and Accountability: Field Experience.

Graduates can be confident they will have the necessary skills to pursue principalship jobs. They will also be sure they are embarking on a career path that has lucrative salaries. According to, the average school principal salary in the state of Illinois is $118,212 a year (as of March 2023).

With relevant field experience embedded in the curriculum, graduates are exposed to both practical and research knowledge and get an opportunity to link theory with an inquiry. They learn the principles of concepts like equity, ethics and social justice as well as how to integrate those concepts into educational practice with interpersonal skills.

SIUE verifies that graduates have fulfilled all necessary steps for certification from the Illinois State Board of Education. For professionals interested in pursuing a superintendent from the state, a principal endorsement provides a pathway as well. The EdS program is also standards-based, aligned to guidelines from both the National Policy Board for Educational Administration and the Interstate School Leaders Licensure Consortium. This makes it generally acceptable for certification in other states.

Learn more about Southern Illinois University Edwardsville’s online Education Specialist in Educational Administration with a Specialization in Principal Preparation program.

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