U-46 Superintendent Sanders leaving district to become state superintendent of education

  • Elgin Area School District U-46 Superintendent Tony Sanders will be leading the state as its top education official starting in February.

      Elgin Area School District U-46 Superintendent Tony Sanders will be leading the state as its top education official starting in February. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

Updated 1/31/2023 7:25 PM

Elgin Area School District U-46 Superintendent Tony Sanders Tuesday was named the next state superintendent of education.

Sanders will assume his new duties in late February.


Sanders said Tuesday he was honored to be selected for the job after a national search to replace outgoing State Superintendent Carmen Ayala.

"I've always told our board of education that there's only one job that I would ever consider leaving U-46 for, and that would be to be the state superintendent," Sanders said. "To know that I was able to get it after a nationwide search is pretty incredible."

Sanders was appointed to lead U-46 in 2014.

U-46 school board President Sue Kerr noted that Sanders' numerous accomplishments include expansion of the district's dual language program, launching a full-day kindergarten program, starting a dual-credit program with Elgin Community College, undergoing a facilities study to identify building needs, and growing the career pathways programs for high school students.

"The U-46 school board is sad to see Superintendent Sanders leave but knows the children of the state of Illinois will benefit form his leadership at the Illinois State Board of Education," Kerr said in a statement. "We wish him the best in this next chapter of his life."

Gov. J.B. Pritzker said Sanders' breadth of experience as superintendent of the state's second-largest school district and his background in education have prepared him to take on this new role.

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"His focus on innovation, social-emotional development, and academic excellence make him an excellent pick," Pritzker said in a news release. "I can think of no better person to lead the Illinois State Board of Education as we continue to invest in, support, and elevate our students and educators."

During his tenure, Sanders oversaw the creation of a new alternative high school model to help reduce the number of expulsions and better serve students. The district also invested in a "grow your own" program to help educational support professionals return to school to earn their teaching credentials.

"Dr. Tony Sanders has distinguished himself as a visionary leader and passionate advocate for students and educators," said Steven Isoye, ISBE board chairman. "As the superintendent of one of Illinois' largest school districts, he intimately understands the strengths, the policy history and the challenges of our public schools.

"At U-46, he has championed equity, expanded opportunities for students, and brought innovative new programs to the district. The board looks forward to his leadership; we are confident he will build on our record-high graduation rates and college and career readiness to continue leading Illinois' schools in a positive direction."


Ayala concluded her four years as state superintendent of education Tuesday. She took on the role in 2019 and was Illinois' first female and first Latina to serve in that capacity. She is retiring after 40 years in public education.

During her tenure, Ayala helped schools statewide navigate the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. She also saw high school graduation rates hit a 12-year high in 2022 with 87.3% of high school seniors graduating.

Ayala also oversaw the addition of the equity continuum on the state's report card. The new metric, added to the 2022 Illinois School Report Card, shows where a district stands on the equity continuum by breaking out data for students of color and showing districts where performance gaps exist.

Sanders on Tuesday said he would work to continue to address students' social and emotional learning needs in the wake of the pandemic. He identified refreshing the state's strategic plan as another top priority, noting the existing plan expires at the end of this school year.

"I think that would then derive what we do over the next four years as an agency," he said.

Sanders added that he would also focus on making early childhood education available statewide.

U-46 board members are scheduled to meet Feb. 6 to discuss next steps for the district as they work to replace Sanders. The board is expected to take action during its regularly scheduled meeting on Feb. 13, which also will be Sanders' last. Sanders' last day with the district is Feb. 22.

ISBE Deputy Education Officer Krish Mohip will serve as interim state superintendent during the transition.

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