Improvements needed: Why Uni is delaying the search for a new director/principal
Published: Thursday, November 1, 2007 - 3:41pm
ALTHOUGH DIRECTOR/PRINCIPAL Steve Epperson’s position is temporary, he’ll be in it for a year longer than originally expected. In a facultywide e-mail last Friday, Associate Provost Keith Marshall announced that the search for a new Uni leader will be postponed until the 2008-09 school year.
But why the delay?
The decision stemmed from a general sense that Uni is not attractive enough to potential candidates for the job. Marshall's e-mail cited the need for time to “address several issues critical to a successful search.”
In meetings on Oct. 22 and 23, Uni's executive and curriculum committees expressed their support for the Provost's Office's proposal to delay the search.
- August 2003-July 2007: Kassie Patton serves as Uni leader
- July 31: Associate Provost Keith Marshall announces Patton will leave effective Aug. 8; no reason is given for her departure
- Aug. 10: Marshall announces Steve Epperson as interim Uni head for 2007-08
- Oct. 26: Marshall announces delay of search until 2008-09; Epperson agrees to serve through end of next school year
As Epperson put it, any person looking to take over his position will want to consider three aspects of the school: quality of staff, quality of students, and quality of resources and facilities.
While few schools can match Uni in the first two categories, low salaries, low budget, and the poor condition of the school building make the job at Uni less than ideal. And with only two stable legs, the stool does not stand.
According to Epperson, Marshall — who is the Provost's Office liaison with Uni — suggested that an additional year would allow time for Uni to make changes to attract top-notch candidates.
In addition to long-standing money and facility problems, various other factors played into the decision.
One was the likely possibility that the University of Illinois will hire a search firm to help identify and narrow down candidates for the job. A search firm would need time to interview students, teachers, and faculty to develop a sense of the school’s culture, expectations, and needs.
Uni has also faced difficulties in accounting ever since the U of I made the switch to a new accounting program whose formats did not meet the needs of Uni’s department heads. Currently, Uni makes second, more detailed copies of budget information, essentially doing the accounting twice. Although accountant Lisa Castor has worked extra hours developing spreadsheets to expedite the process, Uni still needs time to fully adjust.
While none of these issues directly concern education, which is ultimately the purpose of the school, the convergence of many smaller problems was reason to opt for a year to step back and make changes.
Epperson came out of retirement in August to be Uni's interim leader for the 2007-08 school year after Marshall announced Kassie Patton was leaving as director/principal. No official reason was given for her departure.
A former Uni math teacher and acting director, Epperson went on to serve as principal of Tremont High School and superintendent of the Tri-Valley and Roselle school districts after he left Uni in the early 1990s.
Even though he has no plans to retain his current position permanently, Epperson has agreed to stay for an extra year.
"I'm here primarily because I really like the school and I really like the students," he explained. "I think that because of my background as superintendent of schools, I have some experience that might be helpful to Uni in this transition phase."
On a similar note, Marshall's facultywide e-mail stated, “With [Epperson’s] assistance and leadership, we can move Uni forward significantly and greatly enhance our ability to attract and secure the leader we all desire.”
It is not yet clear exactly what changes are going to take place, but for one thing, Epperson hopes to have professionals assess the building and make plans for renovations before the end of the year. Although details are not worked out yet, it is anticipated that the U of I will help provide resources for repairs of Uni facilities.
For many years, students and faculty alike have complained about erratic heating, peeling paint, stained ceilings, and the generally dilapidated condition of the school building. Deficient teacher salaries have also been the source of many a classroom joke.
An impending change of principal has put Uni at a crossroads and, as it turns out, an apt time to finally address some of these issues. More than simply to increase appeal for job candidates, the coming year may be a time to correct some of the more haphazard aspects of how Uni is run.
Said Epperson, “I look at this as an opportunity for us to try to do something that will be helpful to Uni in the long run.”