ASCD Emerging Leader PJ Caposey Named Illinois Superintendent of the Year!

Walter McKenzie
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Class of 2013 ASCD Emerging Leader Dr. PJ Caposey, superintendent of Meridian CUSD #223, has been named the 2023 Illinois Superintendent of the Year by the Illinois Association of School Administrators.

The award is presented today, Saturday, November 19, 2022, during the Joint Annual Conference in Chicago co-sponsored by the Illinois Association of School Boards (IASB), the Illinois Association of School Business Officials (IASBO) and IASA. Nominees are judged on the following criteria: academic achievement, preparing students for the future, social- emotional support, teaching and instruction and leadership.

An independent panel selected Dr. Caposey for Illinois Superintendent of the Year based on the significant turnaround he facilitated in Meridian CUSD #223, a district of about 1,400 students in Ogle County. When he was hired in 2013, the rural district was in a financial crisis, had extremely limited technology, a high staff turnover rate and outdated curriculum and teaching strategies.

After making significant budget cuts, Dr. Caposey led a successful referendum campaign (the first of two successful referendums) that put the district on solid financial footing and paved the way for the implementation of numerous improvements. His accomplishments include:

- Six consecutive years of being recognized by US News and World Report as a Top Achieving High School. Never recognized previously.

- Over 85 percent of graduates earned college credit in the 2021-22 school year. Over one-third of students earned over a full semester of college credits.

- Changed the district’s foundational approach at the K-5 level in both English Language Arts and math. As a result of changes, students in Meridian CUSD #223 have not experienced learning loss throughout the pandemic.

- Recognized as an EduJedi School, District Administration District of Distinction and ISTE Making IT Happen winner as a result of the district’s technology transformation. Meridian CUSD #223 is 1:1 with ubiquitous wifi, even in student homes, after not having working email before Dr. Caposey arrived.

- Increased participation and performance in AP courses, earning the recognition as a School of Opportunity. Increased access to algebra in eighth grade and extended advanced coursework down into fifth grade.

- Implemented a mentoring program that has led to a 20 percent increase in ninth grade students on track to graduate.

- Added the position of College and Career Coordinator, which has helped prepare students for the future and establish partnerships with companies and organizations in the region.

- Improved social-emotional supports for students by adopting the Leader in Me program, expanding the district’s counseling department and implementing policies and procedures focused on diversity, equity and inclusion.

- Developed an instructional coaching program, invested in professional development and adopted internal culture metrics.

- Reduced the annual turnover rate of staff from over 10 percent to having multiple years in the last five with zero voluntary turnover among teacher staff.

Dr. Brent Clark, executive director of IASA, described Dr. Caposey as a dynamic leader and passionate educator who cares deeply about improving the lives of students in Meridian CUSD #223 and elevating public education nationwide.

“The turnaround PJ has facilitated in Meridian 223 is a shining example of why strong leadership matters,” Dr. Clark said. “The changes he’s made, the programs he’s implemented and the culture he’s built has drastically improved the lives of students. Accomplishing those feats takes a uniquely talented person, and PJ is unquestionably one of the most expressive leaders and gifted communicators I have ever met.”

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