Kate Kwasny M ’18, assistant principal at Hermes Elementary School
$3.2 million grant from the Kern Family Foundation positions North Central as a visionary in the education field
The largest private grant in the 157-year history of North Central College will develop principals and teachers who foster “cultures of character” in their schools.
In December, the foundation announced its support for the College’s vision to become a regional and national model of educational leader preparation by providing distinctive classroom, experiential learning and professional development opportunities.
“This grant from the Kern Family Foundation recognizes the College’s historic commitment to leadership, ethics and values and the outstanding reputation of our principal preparation curriculum,” said President Troy Hammond. “With this investment, the foundation has shown it has confidence that North Central can make an important and far-reaching impact in creating cultures of character in school districts and communities across Illinois, the Midwest—and perhaps, across the country.”
A framework for building cultures of character in schools will be infused in to the College’s master of education in educational leadership degree with eligibility for principal endorsement and through the creation of a Character Education Institute—anchored by North Central’s long-established Leadership, Ethics and Values (LEV) program and Center for Social Impact.
Kathy Black, assistant professor of education and coordinator of the master of education degree, said that developing character is true to the College’s mission and the grant paves the way for these programs to reach a broader population.
“The Kern Family Foundation and North Central share a special synergy; we both have a long-standing and deep commitment to cultivating leaders of character,” said Black. “Through this partnership, we will have the opportunity to prepare school leaders who prioritize student character as well as academics.”
Professor Kathy Black (standing left) and Kate Kwasny
Addressing the need for diversity and mentoring
The grant spans four and a half years and supports a number of education initiatives, academic appointments and staff support.
The Cultures of Character Scholarships are partial tuition scholarships for the development of more diverse leadership candidates and educators serving high-needs schools.
The Fellows Program funds fellowships for select master’s candidates to spend a semester-long, full-immersion internship with a principal-mentor. Funding contributes to paying a full-time substitute to cover the candidate’s classroom. Previously, the internship requirements had to be satisfied outside of normal work hours.
“This allows our master’s candidates to gain experience in the day-to-day realities of being part of an administrative team,” said Black. “We’ve also had principals tell us how much they learn from these candidates working with them for a year.”
The model for the fellowship program was developed as the College participated in a federal grant partnership administered by Illinois State University. Known as IL-PART (Illinois Partnerships Advancing Rigorous Training), the program pioneered a leader preparation model that allowed candidates to complete a full-immersion internship with a principal. The placement rate and overall success of that program led to its further development for the Kern Grant proposal.
“North Central was directly responsible for my position here at Hermes Elementary,” said Kate Kwasny M ’18, now an assistant principal at the East Aurora District 131 school. “I was able to work here in a full-immersion internship, doing all the things that principals do. I have the confidence to go into any school and bring about change for staff and students.”
“We are on the trajectory to become thought leaders in fostering cultures of character.”
-Kathleen King, assistant professor of education and education graduate placement coordinator
LEV connection supports character education
The Kern Foundation grant will also fund a Character Education Institute for current principals, teachers and undergraduate education majors, who will benefit from a Cultures of Character Principal Academy and Character Education Certificate. The Academy will provide coaches for administrators in PK-12 schools who want to achieve school improvement goals through strong school cultures of character. The Character Education Certificate will enable educators to become scholars of character development and social and emotional learning.
“This is an exciting collaboration between LEV and the College’s education department to create a distinctive range of opportunities for education students at North Central College,” said Thomas Cavenagh, Schneller Sisters Professor of Leadership, Ethics and Values and director of Leadership, Ethics and Values. “The LEV program teaches and endeavors to advance a Neo-Aristotelian virtue ethics framework that is well-aligned with the philosophy and beliefs of the Kern Family Foundation.”
The College will also build collaboration among scholars, educators, legislators and other stakeholders to further explore the integration of character development initiatives with social-emotional learning standards.
“We are on the trajectory to become thought leaders in fostering cultures of character,” said Kathleen King, assistant professor of education and education graduate placement coordinator. “What’s exciting is that this grant will impact from both the top and bottom, in terms of school culture. The principal leadership piece impacts from the top down and the classroom teachers impact from the bottom up. It is best practice to see movement in both directions.”
“This is an exciting collaboration between LEV and the College’s education department to create a distinctive range of opportunities for education students.”
-Thomas Cavenagh, Schneller Sisters Professor of Leadership, Ethics and Values and director of Leadership, Ethics and Values
Professionals in the education field explain why North Central College is so successful at preparing school leaders
“North Central’s program is rigorous … and has prepared me with the skills needed as a future school leader.”
-Current master's student Ryan Gatbunton, guidance counselor at West Aurora High School in West Aurora School District 129
“I’ve mentored three candidates from North Central. They come ready to work and they’re up on the latest and greatest in the field. They’re the kind of leaders I’m looking for because they care about kids, they know about leadership and they work hard. They’re part of our school every day.”
-Scott Dart, principal of Hermes Elementary School, East Aurora School District 131
“I completed an immersion internship, and was fully immersed in the role of an assistant principal. This preparation allows you to hit the ground running from day one.”
-Katie Love '02/M '17, assistant principal, Yorkville Middle School, Yorkville Community Unit School District 115