Illinois Partnerships Advancing Rigorous Training  (IL-PART)

The Illinois Partnerships Advancing Rigorous Training  (IL-PART) project, directed by the Center for the Study of Education Policy at Illinois State University, represents a collaborative effort between high-need districts and universities that have come together in formal partnerships aimed at transforming leadership preparation and development using a collaborative model. IL-PART is comprised of 3 qualifying high-need district/university partnerships:

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


The grant also partners with the Center for Catholic School Effectiveness at Loyola University-Chicago and the Catholic school diocese representing Aurora, Bloomington, and Quincy.
The consortium of partners collaborate in a two-fold effort aimed at: 1) enhancing the role of the district/university partnerships in creating rigorous and relevant principal training programs aligned to the complexities faced by today’s principals; and 2) working collectively to improve teaching and learning and support high academic standards for students in participating high-need districts.
Three clear goals will guide the IL-PART Project:

  • Goal 1: Prepare highly-effective school principals and assistant principals that positively impact student learning in high-need districts;
  • Goal 2: Develop effective partnerships between university partners and high-need districts to build leadership capacity in an effort to improve student outcomes.
  • Goal 3: Dissemination of IL-PART evaluation findings and emerging best practices in principal preparation and partnership development

School Leadership Program Highlights: Illinois State University
The School Leadership Program (SLP), housed in the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Innovation and Improvement, provides grants to support the development, improvement and expansion of programs designed to provide high-need schools with high-quality leaders.  In this edition of the SLP Highlights, how Illinois State University (ISU) used SLP funding to test and implement academies for administrators across the state is shared.

In 2010, Illinois passed bold and innovative legislation to strengthen the standards guiding principal preparation. The team at the Center for the Study of Education Policy at ISU supported the research-based changes and was confident that the new program standards would improve the quality of school leadership throughout Illinois. They also knew that the strengthened standards were at risk of repeal without a clear model and strong data validating impact on student outcomes. The team endeavored to produce actionable research that provided evidence on how principals impacted student learning.

​“It is doubtful that we would have been able to sustain the strengthened Illinois standards for principal preparation without the SLP grant. The grant helped us validate expectations for the field and offered assurance to districts and preparation providers alike that we were on the right path.” ~ Dr. Erika Hunt, Senior Policy Analyst and Researcher, Center for the Study of Education Policy at Illinois State University.

IL-PART Project Staff

Dr. Erika Hunt
Dr. Erika HuntProject Director
Dr. Alicia Haller
Dr. Alicia HallerProject Director
Michaela Fray
Michaela FrayIL-PART Coordinator
Dr. Mary Kay Scharf
Dr. Mary Kay ScharfIL-PART Coordinator
Paty Huizar
Paty HuizarIL-PART Coordinator


Illinois has been working at the forefront of innovation and improvement in principal quality for quite some time.  Recognized for bold policy initiatives involving principal preparation and development, the State of Illinois has received national awards and recognitions.  For example, Illinois was selected by the Education Commission of the States as the recipient of the 2014 Frank Newman Award for State Innovation.  Nominated by the National Conference of State Legislators (NCSL), Illinois was recognized with this award for the collaborative efforts of the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE), the Illinois Board of Higher Education (IBHE), and the Center for the Study of Education Policy at Illinois State University (CSEP) to engage a broad group of stakeholders in the development of rigorous program requirements for principal preparation.  These efforts led to the creation of a new P-12 Principal Endorsement enacted in 2010 through Illinois Public Act 96-0903 that mandated that all preparation programs throughout the state apply for program approval under the new requirements. Illinois’ work has been covered by several national organizations.

The key elements of Public Act 96-0903 intentionally correlate with the evidenced-based practices for effective leadership development found in Darling-Hammond, LaPointe, Meyerson, Orr, & Cohen (2007), including: 1) rigorous and targeted recruitment and selection; 2) cohesive program aligned with leadership standards that emphasize instructional leadership; 3) faculty who are knowledgeable in their subject areas – both university professors and practitioners; and 4) well-designed and supervised administrative internships that allow candidates to engage in leadership responsibilities for substantial periods of time under the supervision of expert mentors.

The statute represents a substantial overhaul of leadership preparation requirements in Illinois and includes the following key elements:

  1. Termination of programs leading to a General Administrative Certificate that had prepared a wide variety of administrative positions, but had proven insufficient to meet the increasing demands of the principalship;
  2. Creation of a Principal Endorsement designed specifically to prepare principals capable of addressing the challenges faced by today’s schools;
  3. Formal university/district partnerships that require faculty to collaborate with school district officials in the design, delivery, and continuous improvement of the principal preparation programs;
  4. Selective admissions criteria requiring aspiring candidates to submit a portfolio that includes evidence of positive impact on student growth, previous leadership experiences, and exemplary inter-personal skills which will also be evidenced through participation in face-to-face interviews;
  5. PK-12 licensure structure that requires coursework and internship experiences be aligned to local and national performance standards and provides development across the PK-12 grade span and with specific student subgroups (special education, English Language Learners, gifted students, and early childhood);
  6. Year-long, performance-based internship designed to provide the candidates with authentic leadership experiences intended to increase their proficiency in areas shown to improve student learning;
  7. Competency-based assessment system aligned to both the Interstate School Leadership Licensure Consortium (ISLLC) Standards and the Southern Regional Education Board (SREB) 13 critical success factors;
  8. Collaborative supervision and support of candidates by a faculty supervisor and a mentor principal, requiring both supervisors to have a minimum of 2 years of success as school principals demonstrated by evidence of positive student growth; and
  9. An 8-hour Principal as Instructional Leader Exam administered by the state.

These key elements represent a paradigm shift for preparation programs from “candidate as consumer” to “district as consumer.”  Moving beyond the simple outcome of program graduates securing administrative positions, the new requirements focus much needed attention on the impact principal preparation ultimately has on school improvement and student outcomes.

In 2013, the U.S. Department of Education awarded CSEP a School Leadership Program grant of $4.6M over 5 years.  The grant currently supports the Illinois Partnerships Advancing Rigorous Training (IL-PART) project, which represents a collaborative aimed at improving the way in which principals are prepared and developed according to P.A. 096-0903.

The School Leadership Preparation and Development Network began in 2010 with funding provided through the United States Department of Education School Leadership Program.  Originally, the Network began as The US Department of Education School Leadership Program Communication Hub with the intent to connect SLP project members and participants across the US.  Research collaboration, project sharing, and project dissemination has been the three major focal points of the Network’s work. Today, the School Leadership Preparation and Development Network operates as an independent organization that connects educators across the United States interested in preparing and developing school leaders to lead our nation’s schools.  The goal of SLPDN is to connect individuals and organizations across the nation interested in transforming schools, districts, and other educational organizations through understanding and promoting innovative and successful practices in school leadership preparation and development, informing policy around school leadership, and supporting high-quality research to collect evidence around effective leadership development practices. This network is intended to facilitate collaboration, research, and information dissemination among leadership preparation and development providers, with policy-makers, and with other stake holders who desire to transform educational practices to meet the needs of all PK-12 students. For more information about SLPDN,

SLPDN Founder:  Dr. Karen Sanzo, Associate Professor at Old Dominion University,

In 2016 and 2018, partners in the IL-PART project gathered to share tools and resources on how to develop the leadership pipeline for Illinois School Districts.  More information including resources shared from each event is available here.

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