New Trier principal named next director of SESP’s teacher education program

Jillian Sandler and Lauren Caruba

New Trier Township High School Principal Timothy Dohrer will be the new director of the School of Education and Social Policy’s teacher education program, Northwestern announced Wednesday.

Dohrer will assume the position July 1 following the retirement of Sophie Haroutunian-Gordon, who has served as director of the SESP program for more than two decades.

As the new director, Dohrer will build on his experience in secondary education and with the SESP curriculum, having served as an instructor in the Master of Science in Education program for the past eight years during Summer Session and Fall Quarter.

Dohrer, who was notified of his appointment last week, said at SESP he is best known for teaching a content area reading class, a course for students aspiring to teach math, science, social studies and foreign languages that he said essentially teaches them “how to teach your textbook.” Dohrer said he also taught an elementary writing instruction class one summer, as well as a reading acquisition course aimed at aspiring English teachers for four quarters.

During his tenure as principal of New Trier, Dohrer oversaw the school’s Winnetka campus, supervising a staff of 450 employees and more than 3,000 sophomore, junior and senior high school students, according to the release. He said he spent 23 years at New Trier, teaching English and serving as English department coordinator before becoming principal.

The school’s Winnetka and Northfield campuses together enroll about 4,200 students, Dohrer said.

“As New Trier principal, Dohrer leads one of the largest and most successful schools in the country,” SESP Dean Penelope Peterson wrote in an email to SESP faculty members announcing Dohrer’s appointment.

Dohrer said he looks forward to expanding his teaching responsibilities at NU.

“I have loved teaching at Northwestern in the summers,” Dohrer said. “I am now going to be able to teach year-round at Northwestern, and I am so excited about working with students there and teaching classes.”

Dohrer, who said he applied for the director position in November after learning of Haroutunian-Gordon’s impending retirement, said he hopes to increasingly tailor teacher education students to the Common Core State Standards being implemented in many states across the country.  He said the students in the program are likely not used to these standards, as they differ from those present when they were going through elementary and high school themselves.

“We have to look at how the curriculum and teaching at NU is providing graduates with the right tools to be successful in their first teaching job,” Dohrer said.

He said he also intends to focus his attention on NU’s Master of Science in Education Teacher Leadership concentration. The program aims to teach aspiring educators to be curriculum and department leaders. Dohrer said the program is one of the first in Illinois to offer certification that aligns with the state’s changing requirements for school leaders.

“It’s very attractive to me because it’s an exciting new program, and much of my work of the last 10 years has been in the development of school leaders,” Dohrer said of the concentration. “So I think I’ll be able to bring my background as a principal to this program and to the development of new leaders.”

SESP junior Melissa Scholl, a secondary teaching major, said she was eager to see what changes Dohrer would make. She said the undergraduate program may need a few tweaks, but she enjoys it overall.

“It’s giving students a comprehensive look at not only teaching itself, but a look at a bigger picture of how schools fit inside their communities and what we as teachers can do to make it a better environment for students,” she said.

Additionally, Dohrer said he wants to increase the value of NU’s teacher education program to prospective students, as the climbing cost of tuition has caused many to question the practicality of pursuing the degree at an expensive school.

Overall, Dohrer said he is eager to make the transition from principal, a job that has encompassed looking at many areas of education.

“I think it’s going to be a pleasure going from being a very busy principal of a huge high school,” he said. “I spend a lot of time doing a lot of things here. I’m most excited about focusing my attention on one area of education.”