David R. Schuler of Northwest Suburban High School District 214 has been named the 2018 Illinois Superintendent of the Year by the Illinois Association of School Administrators. The award was presented Saturday morning at a conference of school officials in Chicago.
In response, Schuler delivered a rousing defense of public education.
"We have a moral obligation, an opportunity, to transform the narrative around public education in this country, and we can do it if every person in this room stands together and focuses on what really matters," he said. "We know that our kids are defined not by how they do on a test but the experiences they bring and they learn (from) in our public schools."
He called on school boards to empower their administrators to take risks even if they may fail -- something he said his board has done from Day 1.
"Of course there are challenges. Don't be defined by the challenges. Make sure we are always talking about the amazing things going on in our schools," he said.
Schuler oversees the state's second-largest high school district with more than 12,000 students at six high schools and four specialized learning programs. The district includes Buffalo Grove, Elk Grove, John Hersey, Prospect, Rolling Meadows and Wheeling high schools.
Nominees are judged on leadership for learning, communication, professionalism and community involvement.
In a news release about the award, Brent Clark, executive director of the administrators association, said of Schuler: "He is positive, full of energy and never takes no for an answer. He finds a way to get it done. I think Dave is one of the people who's always looking over the horizon determining where we need to be as public school educators and where public schools need to be to best suit and serve schoolchildren."
Those who nominated Schuler noted his accomplishments during his 12-year tenure, including:
• Having all six high schools consistently ranked among the best in the state and country.
• Achieving awards and recognition for financial excellence.
• Creating Educator Prep, a teacher preparation program that provides resources, dual-credit opportunities, mentoring and job placement to high school students through partnerships with elementary schools and postsecondary institutions. The program has a specific focus on solidifying minority students' interest in the education profession.
• Implementing a Career Pathways program that provides students with rigorous courses, access to early college credits, industry certifications, and personalized, career-specific learning experiences. Students have 44 career pathways from which to choose, there are 2,700 annual student workplace learning experiences, and in one year students earned 34,565 early college credits.
Lazaro Lopez, District 214 Associate Superintendent for Teaching and Learning, also pointed to the goal set several years ago to ensure that every individual that graduated from District 214 would have an internship and workplace learning experience aligned to their career pathway as an example.
The goal is part of the district's Redefining Ready! campaign, a national initiative launched during the 2015-16 school year when Schuler served as president of the American Association of School Administrators. The purpose is to introduce new research-based metrics to more appropriately assess that students are college ready, career ready and life ready.
"He has a wonderful way of challenging you and asking you to rethink things that really has no boundaries or limits," Lopez said in a news release.
Schuler began his career as a social studies teacher in Wisconsin. He was superintendent in two Wisconsin districts before becoming head of District 214 in 2005.