Two want to be Regional Superintendent

by Mike Kroll

The state of Illinois has 102 counties, many of which have relatively small populations, and elects 56 Regional Superintendents of Education. In most cases these offices serve as an intermediary between the State Board of Education and local school districts across a region composed of 2-8 counties. Knox County is one of 17 single-county regions. All 56 of these Regional Superintendents are up for election in November and despite the historically low profile of the office Knox County is witnessing a rare primary battle in the Republican primary between Tim Halloran and Richard Qualls.

Both men boast of long experience in education. For the past 13 years Qualls has been principal of Churchill Junior High in Galesburg and for 17 years before that he served as a teacher, coach and administrator in the Quad-City area schools. Halloran was a science teacher in Chicago for two years before moving to Galesburg in 1976. Halloran then taught science at Yates City High School for 12 years before becoming a science and math consultant and finally being named assistant Regional Superintendent in 1994. Both men have masters’ degrees and the requisite administrative certification.

Both proudly proclaim that they are not politicians. "I’m not really interested in politics and I don’t think this position should be political," stated Qualls. "This is however an elected position and one that I see as becoming increasingly important in the coming years due to the financial stress on our schools today." Qualls has run for office twice before, seeking a position on the Rockridge School District. "The first time I ran I lost real bad. I think that the number of my family members in the district exceeded my vote total. I learned a lot from that experience and was successful my second time around. I won’t be asking anyone for a dime to fund my campaign. The entire cost will come out of my own pocket."

"I wouldn’t have sought this job had Bob [Johnson] sought reelection," explained Halloran. "Although I am not a politician I have enjoyed the experience of campaigning. I have spent my entire adult life educating children and I want to put my experience to work promoting learning. This is almost an invisible position to most voters but one that is inheriting more and more responsibility. I know both the strengths and needs of schools in Knox County and I want to use my experience to enhance the programs and services this office provides to our teachers and schools."

To a very real extent the Regional Superintendent of Schools is a paper-shuffling role. Responsible for a variety of administrative tasks including teacher certification, truancy prevention, school safety, teacher development and even GED testing of adults; regional superintendents and their staffs handle a myriad of mundane administrative tasks.

Halloran points to three key points in his platform: "1) insuring that our teachers are well-qualified and certified; 2) making sure that our teachers have the tools and knowledge to meet the educational challenges of the 21st century; and 3) working to reduce the truancy and drop-out rate by providing incentives and alternatives." Halloran says he sees no reason to expand beyond the existing three fulltime and one part time staff.

"I am running for this office because I am the best person for the job," says Qualls. "I am the only candidate that has been the sole person responsible for a large budget, building safety plans teacher training and supervision, and directly responsible for the education of hundreds of students each school year. My opponent has assisted in these roles but I alone have been directly responsible and proven worthy. The other candidates just don’t have my leadership experience, proven skills nor a sincere desire to put kids first."

One area that will test the metal of whoever wins in November is the amazingly complicated and paper-intensive requirement for continuing education and recertification of teachers in Illinois. Both men appreciate the importance of on-going teacher development and recognize that this relatively new system has flaws. "The new recertification requirements are too complicated and entail a lot of additional paperwork but they also are forcing those teachers who have avoided staff development in the past to participate now," said Halloran. Qualls is blunt, "This new recertification process is a joke and a very expensive burden on taxpayers. The goal of maintaining and developing teachers’ skills is worthy and important but unrelated to the system now in place."

Whoever wins the Republican primary will face Democrat Bonnie Harris in the fall. With both primary and general election contests for this post we are witnessing a true political novelty in Knox County. Unfortunately it is also a race unlikely to capture the attention of many voters.