Editor's note: The following information was provided by the ISAL.
Why would an educator, having reached the level of becoming a superintendent, put in two more years of research, training and learning?
Ask the 23 Illinois superintendents who just completed the inaugural Illinois School for Advanced Leadership cohort and you get a common theme that has a certain Olympic ring to it: to go higher and farther in their pursuit of excellence.
Superintendent Cathy Skinner was a member of ISAL’s first graduating class.
"These last two years in my ISAL classes have truly been an exceptional experience for me,” said Skinner, who has been an educator for 32 years and is entering her second year as superintendent of District 68. “I am confident that I have gained broad knowledge and powerful skills that will provide me with the resources to expand my leadership abilities in gaining the ultimate goal of student achievement through successful student learning in our schools."
ISAL was developed and is sponsored by the Illinois Association of School Administrators (IASA), the statewide organization that represents public school superintendents. The goal was to create a new level of leadership in public education.
“Given all of the challenges facing superintendents and public education in Illinois, we thought it was important to provide a unique opportunity through rigorous curriculum, training and experiences for those men and women who were willing to push themselves beyond what is expected of a superintendent,” said IASA Executive Director Brent Clark.
“We were looking for ‘Trail Blazers’ – people who would go where others had never gone. What we ended up with is a dedicated group of educators who are specially trained to lead their school districts and to help create a vision for public education in our state.”
The two-year ISAL program included:
• A professional coach;
• Developing a personalized professional growth plan for student achievement; and
• Conducting a comprehensive needs assessment to determine district and leadership needs.
ISAL also studied the superintendent’s role through five leadership lenses: facilitator of shared moral purpose, change agent, relationship/culture promoter, capacity builder, and coherence maker.
Creating ISAL had been discussed as early as 2005, and a design team composed of veteran superintendents and educational leaders was formed in 2008. After two years of work, the ISAL program was rolled out in 2010.
Nancy Blair, a professor of leadership studies at Cardinal Stritch University in Milwaukee and an author of three books on leadership, was selected to facilitate the program.
“I think this program is unique. I say that because it compares to what we do in our doctoral programs at Cardinal Stritch with regard to transformational leadership. We work deeper than most programs, from the inside out, and people come to our university from all different fields, not just education, because of that different focus,” said Blair, noting that the ISAL graduates had to develop a personal growth plan as well as a district plan.
The program culminated with the 23 becoming charter members of a distinguished group known as ISAL Fellows at the graduation ceremony Aug. 4 at the IASA headquarters in Springfield.
“We are really proud of this group of superintendents,” Clark said. “Everyone talks about return on investment, and in this case it will be making a difference in public education and what they can do for kids around the state. The challenge for them will be to go home, stick with it and carry it out over a sustained period of time.
“These superintendents were trail blazers in the sense that they were the first group to go through ISAL and they have helped us shape the program for the groups that will follow.”
Clark said IASA is now accepting applications for ISAL II, which will begin in January of 2013.