Retiring St. Clair County schools superintendent will be replaced by Waterloo principal
Editor's note: This story was originally published in the Belleville News-Democrat.
St. Clair County Regional Superintendent of Schools Mark Eichenlaub, who has a doctorate in educational leadership and administration, is scheduled to retire Nov. 30, 2023 after serving over 36 years in public education.
“It’s been an honor to serve the people of St. Clair County and to serve under leadership of the county. I couldn’t be more humbled to have been asked to do this,” he said.
The St. Clair County Board adopted a resolution Monday night to appoint Waterloo High School Principal Lori Costello to the position starting Jan. 1, 2024 until the general election the following November, when it will be filled by election for the rest of the term. The board will appoint an interim regional superintendent at this month’s board meeting for December.
Costello said she will be resigning as principal effective December 31, 2023, and the school board will hire her replacement.
On the 2023 Illinois Report Card, Waterloo High School received an “exemplary” designation, indicating that it performed in the top 10% of public schools statewide in the 2022-23 school year.
Eichelaub first began at the St. Clair County Regional Office of Education in July 2018 as assistant superintendent. In Oct. 2020, he became regional superintendent when his predecessor, Susan Sarfaty, retired mid-term. Retirement plans and election cycles don’t always align for many positions in elected office, according to St. Clair County Clerk Thomas Holbrook.
Eichenlaub ran unopposed in the Nov. 2022 general election, becoming elected for a term starting July 2023 through June 2027.
Regional superintendents are the chief administrative officers of the state’s regional offices of education and the only elected education professional office, according to the Illinois Association of Regional Superintendents of Schools.
“We are there to support the needs, long term and short term, of all of our publics. And we try to do that in the best way we possibly can,” Eichenlaub said.
Those publics include students, parents, teachers, administrators, school board members, and the Illinois State Board of Education, he said.
“A lot of our work is done behind the scenes and working with people to make sure their needs are met,” he said, which includes working as a group of regional superintendents on legislative issues.
Eichenlaub said as the leader of education of the county, “you look at the big picture items of ‘What really impacts students?’”
Addressing challenges in education
Among the biggest challenges Eichenlaub worked to address during his tenure were students’ learning recovery from COVID-19 and the teacher shortage, he said. Internally, he said they’ve done a lot of work to modernize and streamline the regional office’s technology to be able to best serve everyone.
“I’m extremely proud of how our districts have come back from COVID. This has been a huge challenge, and districts and communities have faced things that they’ve never seen before,” Eichenlaub said.
The pandemic recovery has included a much-needed focus on social-emotional support for students and continued high academic expectations “to serve the whole child, so to speak,” he said.
Eichenlaub said he’s also been impressed with how students, parents and teachers responded by bringing in and learning how to use technology to support instruction, which has carried over with teachers integrating technology into students’ learning every day now.
“It’s probably the biggest and greatest professional development movement that’s ever happened in the history of education,” he said.
For the teacher shortage, he said one of the biggest things the regional office has done is to help people who don’t have a teaching degree find pathways to become teachers and then provide them professional development support to ensure their success.
“We have a tremendous group of educators in both our non-public and our public schools,” he said.
While there are openings in the county, there are still people interested in going into teaching.
“We have to support that as much as possible,” Eichenlaub said. “I’ve been very proud of what we’ve done in the county to work as a team to try to help with this very big issue of teacher shortage.”
Veteran Waterloo administrator
Lori Costello, who has been the principal at Waterloo High School for the past 10 years and was assistant principal for the six years before that, will assume the position of regional superintendent in the new year.
She has her superintendent’s and chief school business official endorsements from the University of Illinois, a master’s degree in educational leadership as well as her teacher certification in business education from McKendree University, and a bachelor’s degree from Illinois State University.
“I welcome this new responsibility in education and look forward to working with the team at the Regional Office,” Costello said in an email.
She said her priorities as regional superintendent will be the teacher shortage and the safety of students, administrators, teachers and staff in schools throughout the county.
“Most importantly, I will work to ensure all students in St. Clair County have access to a high quality education,” Costello said.
Kelly Smits is a reporter with the Belleville News-Democrat, a news partner of St. Louis Public Radio.