MCLEAN COUNTY, Ill. (WMBD) — In McLean County, the county’s Regional Office of Education received a federal grant to prepare new and aspiring principals for an administrative role.

The purpose is to address a near shortage of school administrators throughout the region, especially at what the office calls “high-needs” schools.

The grant comes from the U.S. Department of Education, focusing mostly on finding administrators in rural districts across Illinois that struggle to fill the positions already.

It is a $4 million grant that the Regional Office of Education #17 in McLean, Livingston, DeWitt, and Logan counties is splitting with other offices as part of the “learning while leading” project.

“It’s going to help 40 schools statewide and the other piece of it is it will actually help the profession as well because it is a research grant, which means that we will be doing research as we do the work,” said Assistant Regional Superintendent at ROE #17, Molly Allen.

The project will pay for mentoring and leadership training for teachers that are licensed to be principals but haven’t considered an admin role.

“It will provide some supports specifically on how to transition into that position,” Allen said.

The focus is mainly on rural districts within McLean and other counties that are constantly seeing staffing shortages.

“It seems like it hits rural districts harder because there aren’t as many people and don’t have as many people in our system,” said Olympia superintendent Laura O’Donnell. “Even though we’re fairly close to Bloomington-Normal, there are people who just don’t want to drive.”

O’Donnell said the pool of applicants for principal or other administration jobs is shrinking within the last decade.

“We were used to 20-30 applicants, five to 10 years ago, and now you’re talking 5-8 applicants for administrative positions,” O’Donnell said.

She said she believes some educators are rethinking their career plans after the past two years of COVID-19 and an increasing workload.

Allen said education can still be a rewarding field and hopes the grant grows the field for the future.