Don Hansen

HANSEN

CHAMPAIGN — A former longtime Champaign Central High School principal who switched to a job advising school leaders and aspiring principals throughout East Central Illinois is set to retire next week.

Don Hansen began his role as a field-service specialist with the Illinois Principals Association in 2005. One of his clients, Westville Junior High Principal Jared Ellison, called him an ideal choice, saying he knows the challenges administrators face.

“Don has been great support for myself and other administrators,” Ellison said, adding that among Hansen’s qualities is he’s a great listener.

Hansen, 71, called the chance to take the job a “great opportunity.”

“They were expanding their field services for members, and they were in a position to hire four new field specialists,” hes said. “I was fortunate enough to be one.”

The associations has 21 regions across the state. Hansen’s worked in five of them — Abe Lincoln, Central Illinois Valley, Cornbelt, Illini and Two Rivers. The Illini region spans west to Mahomet, east to the Indiana border, north to Hoopeston and south to Charleston.

His job was to work as a liaison between district leaders and his group.

“We’re kind of the link from our regions back to the state board and our executive director and the staff,” Hansen said. “We do whatever we need to do to support our members, help them with any concerns. This crazy time we’re in, it’s new to all of us.”

Hansen retired from Central in 2005 after 34 years in local education. The St. Charles native originally served as a teacher at Franklin Middle School, taught two years at Central, then moved up the ranks to the dean’s office, assistant principal and principal.

Hansen said he empathizes with school officials trying to run buildings and keep schools going “and keep kids learning” during the pandemic.

“It’s difficult, for sure,” he said.

He and the state’s other field specialists answer questions that usually sound like “Can I do this?” or “What should I do here?” At times, he relies on legal counsel to answer questions dealing with rules and regulations.

“We give just basic advice on how to be a principal, how to run a building, how to work with parents and kids,” Hansen said.

The principals association’s membership comprises administrators in 7,000 schools — public and private.

Ellison said he has appreciated Hansen’s personal approach and recalls receiving a handwritten note from him shortly after taking the principal’s job.

“That in itself would serve as a great memory,” Ellison said. “However, I have received more handwritten cards and notes over the years. It is something that I have pretty much come to expect and something that I will miss.”

Hansen said discipline has been an issue for building administrators.

“The expectations there have changed over the course of time,” Hansen said, adding that hiring is also an issue.

“It used to be we had tons and tons of people who wanted to be teachers,” he said. “We would get 100 applications for one job. Now we almost have to go out and find candidates for teaching positions.”

He said pay is a prime reason.

“Teachers don’t make a lot of money,” Hansen said. “There are a lot more things people can do with their lives that maybe aren’t as challenging. The profession itself has had changes as far as educational requirements, what certificate we need and how we get it.”

He said he has heard of some principals who are encouraging their students not to go into teaching. He said principals are having trouble getting substitute teachers, and on some occasions principals are having to fill in, in the classroom.

“A lot of people don’t want to get out and mix with society” due to the pandemic, he said, adding that the pay is “certainly an issue.”

The civility of students is something he has been hearing about since he started teaching 45 years ago. He said he has always heard “the kids’ attitudes are worse than they’ve ever been.”

He said the pandemic is not a nightmare, “but a different challenge.”

“I used to work in the neighborhood of 150 days or so,” he said. “I used to be in hotels 100 nights a year. This last nine months, I probably haven’t been on the road and haven’t spent 10 nights in a hotel. Everything is being done remotely.”

He misses the face-to-face communication.

Hansen said the new challenge is how to make up the learning deficits caused by the pandemic.

“How many will fail and not be promoted to the next grade?” he said. “The conversation was somewhere between 15 to 20 percent.”

Hansen’s successor, Dan Kaiser, a retired principal at Dwight High School, was selected during the summer and has been working with Hansen during the transition phase.

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