The Illinois State Board of Education announced Tuesday that Tony Sanders, superintendent of Elgin School District U-46, was named the new state superintendent of education.
Carmen Ayala — the first woman and person of color to hold the position — announced in November that she would be retiring as the state’s top education official in February.
Before joining U-46 in 2007 as the district’s chief communications officer, Sanders served in a similar role for St. Louis Public Schools and worked in communications and government relations for Illinois agencies, including ISBE, according to the agency’s announcement. Sanders then held a chief of staff role in U-46 before being appointed to lead the district in 2014.
“Dr. Tony Sanders is an extraordinary choice for State Superintendent of Education,” Governor J.B. Pritzker said in a news release. “Dr. Sanders’ breadth of experience as superintendent of School District U-46 and his entire background have prepared him to take on this role. His focus on innovation, social emotional development, and academic excellence make him an extraordinary pick.”
Sanders accomplished a number of things during his tenure at the second-largest school district in Illinois, including the expansion of the dual language program, the launch of full-day kindergarten and the creation of a dual credit program with Elgin Community College, according to a news release from District U-46.
In a statement, ISBE board chair Steven Isoye noted Sanders’ deep understanding of issues rooted in the public school system.
“At U-46, he has championed equity, expanded opportunities for students, and brought innovative new programs to the district,” Isoye said. “We are confident he will build on our record-high graduation rates and college and career readiness to continue leading Illinois’ schools in a positive direction.”
At U-46, Sanders pushed for career pathways programs for high school students.
“The U-46 School Board is sad to see Superintendent Sanders leave, but knows that the children of the state of Illinois will benefit from his leadership at the Illinois State Board of Education,” said U-46 Board of Education Board President Sue Kerr in a statement.
Sanders supported the effort to reform Illinois’ school funding and helped pass the Every Student Succeeds Act. On behalf of more than 100,000 Illinois Federation of Teachers members, union president Dan Montgomery praised Sanders’ advocacy work. “We … hope in his new role, he helps to move our state closer to achieving equitable funding and eliminating disparities in districts statewide,” Montgomery said in a statement.
Sanders will step in to the role in late February.