Dr. Jill Underly is a life-long public school advocate, administrator, and teacher.
Dr. Jill Underly knew she wanted to be a teacher way back in 1986, when she was in the 3rd grade. She was inspired by the first teacher in space, Christa McAuliffe, and decided to go into public service “when she grew up.” Throughout high school she worked in a family daycare and volunteered on the pediatrics floor of the local hospital. As soon as she was able, she began substitute teaching in elementary and middle school settings.
Jill’s first teaching job started the week after she finished student teaching, and was at a large comprehensive rural high school where she taught U.S. History, Government, Sociology, and Midwestern History. She also taught along side the English Language Learner teacher and worked with students who were the children of migrant farmers from Mexico. There were many tomato fields in the area and a large cannery nearby. While teaching in her first few years, she was named department chair of the social studies department, started the high school girls’ softball team, and she was one of the sponsors of the National Honor Society. She also was her teacher’s association vice president.
After meeting her husband, John, they moved to a suburban area for John’s job. Jill now taught at a much larger high school with a lot more resources. Here she taught U.S. History and World History, and U.S. Geography. Some of her former students now work at corporations such as Facebook and Google. She coached the freshman softball team, and was the Assistant Varsity Coach, and Jill also sponsored student council, where they facilitated charity events such as a high school “battle of the bands” for childhood cancer research.
While in Graduate School at UW Madison, Jill worked primarily with first-generation college students from rural Wisconsin and urban Milwaukee, many of whom commuted to Madison daily. There she helped them navigate a large research university and helped them be successful.
Since 1999, Jill has worked in “all facets of public education, PK – 16:” as a high school and middle school social studies teacher, a University of Wisconsin College of Letters & Science academic advisor, a Title I Consultant and assistant manager at the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, an elementary principal and Director of Instruction, and most recently, a rural school district superintendent. In 2015, she was the youngest female superintendent to lead a public school district in Wisconsin with a research-doctorate degree.
With over two decades of public education experience, including her current 6 years as the Superintendent of the Pecatonica School District and 5 years at the Department of Public Instruction in both Educator Licensing and Title I, Dr. Underly has been committed to ensuring that every child, every day, has the opportunity for a first-class public education in the State of Wisconsin.
As Pecatonica’s chief learning officer, administrator, and business manager, Dr. Underly led initiatives to mitigate the open enrollment problems that plague rural school districts. In the summer of 2015, she brought a summer enrichment day camp for local families of elementary aged children, which was awarded a “Standing up for Rural Schools, Libraries, and Communities Award” from the Department and the Wisconsin Rural Schools Association in 2016. In 2017, the Pecatonica Area School District was one of the first public schools to offer a full day 4K program and daycare program at the elementary school. In 2019, the Pecatonica Area School District expanded the program to all district families so they could send their 4K child to preschool every day at no additional cost. This model is now being replicated in public schools, and especially rural schools, throughout Wisconsin.
As a leader at the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, Dr. Underly was involved with the development of the online federal grant software program that streamlined requirements and made claiming funds from federal grants seamless, saving business managers and bookkeepers countless hours in paperwork.
Dr. Underly and her siblings are all first generation college students, having grown up in Northwest Indiana where their father was a second-generation IBEW industrial electrician and their mother a homemaker. She came to Wisconsin in 2005 to pursue her graduate education at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, as a doctoral student in Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis. She received her doctorate in 2012 with a dissertation about the Federal Title I program and the impacts the administrative requirements have on both rural and urban districts. Prior to moving to Wisconsin, Dr. Underly was a high school social studies teacher where she primarily taught government, U.S. History, Midwestern History, and Geography.
She and her husband, John, have two children, both currently in middle school. They live on a small farm in southwestern Wisconsin and raise a menagerie of chickens, farm cats, and a Labrador Retriever among a grove of fruit trees and a large vegetable garden to sustain themselves, family and friends. Dr. Underly is an accomplished baker and cook and enjoys spending time around the dinner table with her family. She also enjoys food preservation, reading, traveling, being outdoors with her children, and reflecting on ways to leverage research and policy to make lives better for the next generation of Wisconsinites.
Senior Student Services Coordinator, University of Wisconsin – Madison, College of Letters & Sciences Undergraduate Academic Services, General Dean’s Staff (2005 – 2009)
Teacher, Munster High School, Munster, Indiana, and Frankfort Senior High School, Frankfort, Indiana. (1999 – 2005). Other roles: Head/Varsity Softball, JV Softball and Freshman Softball Coach; National Honor Society Sponsor, Student Council Advisor, Frankfort Education Association Vice President, Social Studies Department Chair.
2008-2012 Doctor of Philosophy in Educational Leadership & Policy Analysis, University of Wisconsin – Madison.
2005-2008 MA in Educational Administration and licensure in Educational Administration.
2000-2004 MA in Secondary Education Curriculum and Instruction, Indiana University-Purdue University, Indianapolis
1995-1999 BA in History and Sociology (double major), Indiana University, Bloomington.
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