The Center for the Study of Education Policy (CSEP) recently concluded a five-year, $4.6 million School Leadership Program grant to support the Illinois Partnerships Advancing Rigorous Training (IL-PART) project. IL-PART represented a collaborative effort between high-need school districts and universities that came together in formal partnerships aimed at improving the way in which principals are prepared and developed in Illinois.

IL-PART was comprised of three qualifying high-need district/university partnerships:

  1. Aurora (East) District 131 and North Central College
  2. Bloomington District 87 and Illinois State University
  3. Quincy District 172 and Western Illinois University

The grant also partnered with the Andrew M. Greeley Center for Catholic Education at Loyola University and the Catholic school diocese representing Aurora, Bloomington, and Quincy.

The consortium of partners focused efforts toward three clear goals:

  • Goal 1: Prepare highly-effective school principals that positively impact student learning in high need schools.
  • Goal 2: Develop sustainable and effective partnerships between university principal preparation programs and high-need districts designed to build district and school leadership capacity to improve school and student outcomes.
  • Goal 3: Disseminate IL-PART evaluation findings and emerging best practices in principal preparation and university/district partnership development.

A key strategy of the IL-PART program was the pilot of an intensive/full-time internship over one semester. At a cost of less than $25,000 per internship, this was an effective and affordable strategy to support with the grant and one in which districts are investing their own money to sustain upon completion of the grant.

Through the IL-PART grant, the original enrollment goal (80 candidates over five years) was exceeded by enrolling 228 candidates. Of these candidates, 161 school leadership candidates graduated from the three programs providing a robust leadership pipeline in three large catchment areas of Illinois. While these highly effective candidates are able to step right into school leadership positions, only 38 percent of the candidates prepared (62 people) have fulfilled school leadership positions (principal or assistant principal positions). This calls for more research on how to not only get more candidates into principal preparation programs but also the need for targeted district/university supports to get them hired into principal and assistant principal positions, and especially with hard-to-staff schools.

Published through this work was an IL-PART tool kit that includes free, open-source materials developed by the university/district partners throughout the project. The toolkit can be found on CSEP’s website.