Private school administrator picked as next Uni High principal

URBANA – The next principal of University Laboratory High School hopes to blend the best of public and private education at the school.

Jeffrey Walkington, a Chicago private school administrator, has been named principal of the high school. His appointment is pending approval of the University of Illinois Board of Trustees at its May 21 meeting in Chicago.

Walkington began his career in public education, teaching English at a Knoxville, Tenn., high school for five years. Since then, he has worked at several private schools. He is currently the vice president of academic affairs at the Latin School of Chicago.

Walkington said he was attracted to Uni because he sees it as a unique opportunity to blend public and private education. He said he has always believed public schools had something to offer to private ones.

"When I first went to independent schools, I tried to bring some of the rigor and clear standards, some of the innovations, and even some of the teachers, from public education to independent education," he said.

Now, he hopes to bring some of the things he has learned from his years in private schools to Uni.

Uni is a public school, where admission is competitive and includes an exam.

Walkington was also impressed by what he said were "unbelievably high academic expectations" at Uni.

"I've been in many independent schools that have top-notch academic programs, but I think they don't get any stronger than Uni students and the innovative teachers that guide them," he said.

Walkington was chosen from four finalists. Interviews by a committee of Uni faculty, staff, a parent and a community member were held in early February.

"I am deeply impressed by Dr. Walkington's record of achievement and by the exciting vision and energy he brings to the Uni High directorship," UI Provost Linda Katehi said in a written statement.

The school had an "incredibly strong" candidate pool, said Keith Marshall, the liaison between the UI provost and Uni High.

Marshall said Walkington stood out because of his experience in other private schools, his academic preparation – his doctorate and teaching and publishing experience, and "his energy and vision for the school and track record for success."

"Everywhere he has gone, he's brought incredible energy and achieved a lot in a very short period of time," Marshall said. "He seemed like a great fit for Uni High, someone who can continue to move the school forward."

Walkington said his top goals for Uni are raising faculty salaries and addressing building needs. The school is examining its facilities and its school climate in two separate studies, both scheduled to be complete by the end of the semester.

While Walkington noted that Uni does a lot of outreach and fundraising, he said he'd like to increase that, and look to the UI as a model of development and communication with alumni.

"Uni needs to tell its story. I think one reason it's quiet is because it has been so successful," he said. "But I think Uni needs to get its story told. It is much better known in the nation as a whole than it is in the state. If telling the story can help us raise money for teachers, attract attention in the state legislature, attract attention in the university, attract attention that would help us in the community, I think that needs to happen."

Walkington said he'll talk with teachers, students and parents who know Uni best to build a strategic plan for the school.

Walkington has been at the Latin School since 2006. Before that he was assistant headmaster and upper school head at the Cannon School in Concord, N.C. from 1998 to 2006. He also worked at the Webb School in Knoxville, Tenn., for four years, where he held various positions including director of public relations.

He has a bachelor's degree from DePauw University, and master's and doctoral degrees from the University of Tennessee.

Walkington grew up in Springfield and Bloomington and graduated from Normal Community High School. Most of his family still lives in Bloomington and he's looking forward to being closer to them.

He is scheduled to begin work at Uni July 16. He will succeed Steve Epperson, who has been interim principal of Uni for two years.

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