District 21’s new top administrator maintains focus on classroom
Kate Hyland will take over this fall as the new superintendent of Community Consolidated Elementary District 21. (Ronnie Wachter~Pioneer Press) GRID: pic for neighbors' profile
Hyland’s three high-priority objectives
• More “inclusionary practices” for the district’s large Hispanic and Eastern European populations;
• Professional development for the teachers;
• Finding ways to make elementary school interesting to children.
It may come as a surprise that education and Dr. Kate Hyland did not get off on the right foot.
As she prepared to start her first year as superintendent of Community Consolidated Elementary District 21, Hyland recalled her first classroom — as a first-grader in a private school in Peoria — and sees an example she now strives to avoid.
“It was very, very traditional,” Hyland explained. “Large classrooms, all the chairs in rows, teachers did the talking, students were called on. A lot of rote memorization, a lot of writing.
“It wasn’t like I went through elementary school with a lot of fond memories,” she continued. “It was not very engaging.”
But one experience in college — a class taken on a whim with some friends — showed Hyland what elementary education could be. Since then, she said she has been working to share that experience with wave after wave of new students.
“I’ve held just about every job there is in elementary school,” the former teacher, principal and assistant superintendent said. “I believe in the work we’re doing in District 21.”
Hyland, who has been an educator in District 21 for 10 years, replaced Dr. Gary Mical on July 1, after he retired from the district’s top spot. She comes to the fore with an education from the University of Illinois and a doctorate from the University of Indiana.
Hyland takes the lead at a district of 7,000 kindergartners through eighth-graders and 550 teachers spread around 13 buildings.
She’s committed to finding a solution to the age-old problem that vexed the classrooms of her own childhood: How to make elementary school classroom’s more interesting?
“There’s going to be times when we still ask kids to memorize, but there’s going to be times when we ask kids to go beyond that,” she said. “We want to ramp up what we’re asking kids to do.”
Hyland didn’t fathom that task when she started her college years in Champaign. But, a lot of her friends wanted to get into teaching, and they convinced her to take a course as an assistant to an instructor at Champaign Central High School. Hyland walked into her junior American literature room, watched how the teacher interacted with the students, and her perception of education transformed.
“I loved it from the first class I observed,” she said.
She got her first job as a teacher at Champaign Centennial High School, and spent 10 years there. She said she was surprised, again, when she became ambitious to move up the hierarchy.
“I never thought I’d leave the classroom, never thought I would become an administrator,” she said. “I miss seeing the light bulb come on.”
What she is seeing the most of today, she said, is computer screens. She and district technology director Jason Klein are working to upgrade their classroom gadgets in a time-efficient and cost-effective way.
“We’re working on trying to find a fiscally responsible way to get devices into kids’ hands,” Klein said. “There’s devices that we can’t even dream of right now. Well, we can dream of them.”
While Hyland no longer is in the classroom to witness light bulbs go on in children, her work developing teachers and putting improved tools in their hands, can help create light-bulb moments in dozens of classrooms.
“If I didn’t think that I still had a positive impact on kids, I wouldn’t be doing this position,” she said. “You have to keep knowing that you’re impacting kids in a positive way, it’s just in a different way.”